By Jeff Bruce
In light of the comment made by Chris in the meta of last week's post, this whole series seems a tad trivial. We will have to wait until at least 2010 to read Wright's definitive work on Paul. Yet, while my series may not convince Tom to pen his Paul book in the next 23 days, it will provide - I hope - some exegetical grist for your theological mill...or something like that. With that, here's my second question for N.T.
Question 2. Why do you describe Paul's problem primarily in terms of ecclesiology? Wright consistently identifies the problem Paul addresses as ecclesiological in nature [see What St. Paul Really Said, 113-133; Paul in Fresh Perspective, 159-160]. He correctly posits that the Jew/Gentile conflict was an important issue within Paul’s churches; but was it the basic problem besetting these believers? Paul states that the meta-issue for humanity (Jew and Gentile alike) is God’s wrath against sin. Everyone fails to give God the glory he is due (Rom 3:23), and therefore all are liable to judgment. Nowhere is this clearer than in Romans 5, where Paul casts justification against the backdrop of humanity's two representative heads; Adam and Christ. Humanity-in-Adam is characterized by condemnation, while humanity-in-Christ experiences justification (5:16, 18). If one sees the ecclesiological schisms within the house churches as Paul’s primary concern, then justification will provide the answer to this sort of problem (i.e. it will be an ecclesiological solution). However, if Paul’s concern - albeit entailing ecclesiological elements - is more universal in scope (e.g. the plight of rebellious Adamic humanity), then justification will provide the answer to a more cosmic and soteriological problem. I do not think Wright is entirely off course in this regard. Rather, I question whether the explanatory force of his analysis has sufficient breadth to account for all the facets of Paul's teaching.
Take "works of the law" as a case in point. Paul denies that justification is by works of the law (Gal 2:16; Rom 3:20). The phrase certainly has something to do with possession of the law. The Jews were estranging Gentiles in the house churches through boasting in their covenantal distictives; particulary those distinctives which marked them out from the Gentiles. Therefore, there is an ecclesiogical problem. However, works of the law can denote not just possession of the law, but performance as well (cf. Rom 3:20; 4:5). Therefore, Paul also envisages the problem as soteriological. Paul denies justification via works of the law not just because the churches are in a tight spot, but because humanity-in-Adam does not have the requisite ability to obey God's commands. Because Wright starts off with the wrong problem (or at least, a reductionistic understanding thereof), he misdiagnoses the meaning of the solution. Justification is Paul’s answer to the human dilemma, not merely the Jew/Gentile dilemma.