N.T. Wright on Theology and Exegesis

This claim from N.T. Wright strikes me as precisely right in regards to one of the main tasks of the theologian before the text of Scripture:

Again and again, theology has approached exegesis not with the desire of hearing what the text is actually saying, but with the hope that it will speak to the particular questions we bring to it. Answer: it will, but only if you pause long enough to let it first reframe the question and then answer it in the reframed terms. That pause is, I think, part of what it means to believe in the authority of Scripture. And I regret that, like the pause between two halves of a chanted psalm-verse, it is all too often omitted in the hurry to get on with the job.

— N.T. Wright, “Historical Paul and ‘Systematic Theology’: To Start a Discussion,” in Biblical Theology: Past, Present, and Future, eds. Carey Walsh and Mark W. Elliott (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 162.

We must pause long enough with the text to let it reshape our questions, our theology, ourselves.

Ephesians 1:3-14 and Exodus

I just ran across this line from N.T. Wright, which agrees with what I have long thought: “Ephesians 1.3-14 is, among other things, a retelling of the exodus story” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.236).

Ephesians 1:1-14: Some Thoughts on Predestination

Yes, I really am wading into this debate. It is unfortunate “wading” in the pool is what is required, since for Paul, predestination is an ocean of grace:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, for he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be saints and unblemished before his sight in love, having predestined us for adoption into him through Jesus Christ, according to the good favour of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace which he graced us with in his beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, according to the wealth of his grace which he caused to overflow into us, in all wisdom and understanding having made known to us what was the mystery of his will, according to his good favour which he purposed in him in the management of the fullness of time, to recapitulate all things in Christ, the things in heaven and the things on earth in him. We were also allotted [an inheritance] in him, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who carries out all things according to the intention of his will, for us to be to the praise of his glory those who are the first to hope in Christ. In him also we heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and having also believed in him we were sealed with the holy Spirit of promise, who is a first payment of our inheritance until the redemption of [God’s] possession, for the praise of his glory.

This passage screams Exodus. The redemption of a people through blood—the lambs’ blood on the doorposts; the fullness of time—430 years since Abraham (Gal. 3:17); the first payment of an inheritance—the tabernacle in the desert; predestination of a people—the choosing of Israel (Ex. 19:4); ruler over all things in heaven and earth—God’s rule (Ex. 19:5); and the praise of his glory—a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). This suggests Paul is deliberately evoking the Exodus, the central history of Israel’s faith, to say that in Christ (which appears constantly in this passage) a new Exodus has taken place.

But this means that in no way is Paul talking about the predestination of individuals, but about a people: the “saints,” the “faithful.” What has happened in Christ is that predestination opens up from Israel to the whole world, all things in heaven and on earth in him. Never was “I” chosen from the foundation of the world, but “he chose us in him.” He “predestined us” (v.5), “we were also allotted an inheritance” (v.11), and the holy Spirit is “our inheritance” (v.14). The central divide is not between these and those individuals, but between the Church and those outside it (in John, the “world”); just as before Christ the divide was between Jews and Gentiles. Others passages would need to be examined to establish this as well (something NT Wright has already done in many places), especially Romans 9-11, a passage massively important simply for what it handles: Israel and Church, predestination, law, covenant and justification. Maybe in a bit.

N.T. Wright, “Justification”

I’ve just dipped into N.T. Wright’s new book, “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.” And already something (as is usual when reading Wright) has hooked my attention:

Second, the question [of justification] is about the means of salvation, how it is accomplished. Here John Piper, and the tradition he represents, have said that salvation is accomplished by the sovereign grace of God, operating through the death of Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf, and appropriated through faith alone. Absolutely. I agree a hundred percent. There is not one syllable of that summary that I would complain about. But there is something missing—or rather, someone missing. Where is the Holy Spirit? In some of the great Reformed theologians, not least John Calvin himself, the work of the Spirit is every bit as important as the work of the Son. But you can’t simply add the Spirit on at the end of the equation and hope it will still have the same shape. Part of my plea in this book is for the Spirit’s work to be taken seriously in relation both to Christian faith itself and to the way in which that faith is “active through love” (Galatians 5:6).

Amen and amen and amen!