N. T. Wright – Paul: A Fresh Perspective (2)

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In this chapter Wright outlines his view of “Creation and Covenant.”  This is a summary version of his larger Climax of the Covenant, but is thorough enough to introduce the reader to what, in my view, is the heart of Wright’s Fresh Perspective on Paul.  Early on in the chapter he says that the ideas of creation and covenant are “at the heart of Judaism” and also “always central to Paul” (page 21).

Two key elements of biblical theology are important for Wright’s argument.  It is almost axiomatic that God is the Creator in the Hebrew Bible.  But it is equally obvious that we live in a “world gone wrong.”   At various points in the narrative of the Hebrew Bible God takes the initiative to repair the damage: covering the shame of Adam and Eve, rescuing Noah from the flood, choosing Abram out of Ur, and most importantly, redeeming Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  In each case, creation language is used to describe God’s work of salvation.  The parallels between creation and the flood are well known, but similar language is used in the Exodus (chaos, water, might acts of God, etc.)  I would also add that the promise of Gen 12 is to make (create) a new people from Abraham, and that the events of the Exodus are the creation of that new people.

At each of these points in history, God makes a covenant with the people whom he saves.  There is an unconditional aspect of the covenant (God will save Adam and Eve, Noah, Abram, the children of Israel) but there is also an expectation of continued relationship with God after he has rescued the people from their situation.  In each case, God expects that the humans in the covenant relationship will respond to the revelation they have been given. We know a great deal more about the responsibilities within the covenant with Abraham and the Law given through Moses, so we can understand the nature of the relationship between belief and response better than the covenants with Adam and Noah.  I do think that by way of analogy we can say that God expected some sort of relationship with the sons of Adam and the Sons of Noah.

Response to these covenants is a bit of a mixed bag – there is some obedience and there is much more disobedience.  Perhaps this is the nature of the record we have, since the historical books are designed to show the failure of the nation to respond to God’s covenant in the Law.  It is clear, however, that God used similar language to describe salvation in each covenant described.  In responding to the needs of people , God is doing “a new creation,” he is renewing the promises he made from the very beginning.

Up to this point I only comment on the Hebrew Bible, but several questions immediately come to mind.  Is this creation / covenant theme actually found in the Bible, or is it imposed by presumed theological decisions? Remember, Wright and I do not share the same theological presuppositions, but I think he is reading the story of the Hebrew Bible correctly.

Secondly, is Wright correct to say that this view found in Judaism is also in Paul?  If the idea of creation of covenant are found in Judaism and Paul, does this have anything to say about our development of systematic theology from the Pauline material?