The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology

The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology

The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology

The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology

Synopsis

With an eye to recent proposals on Paul's view of the Law and his relation to his first-century context, N. T. Wright looks in detail at passages central to the current debate. Among them are some of the most controversial sections of Paul. From his meticulous exegesis Wright argues that Paul saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as the climactic moment in the covenant history of Israel and from this perspective came to a different understanding of the function of the Jewish Law. Wright thus creates a basis from which many of the most vexed problems of Pauline exegesis can in principle be solved and longstanding theological puzzles clarified.

Excerpt

One task leads to another, and while working on a book on Pauline theology, as yet incomplete, I discover that I have spent a fair amount of my limited research time in recent years wrestling with the detailed exegesis of certain key Pauline passages. For a variety of reasons, these relate particularly to his view of Jesus Christ on the one hand and the Jewish law on the other. Some of these studies have already been published; others have been given as seminar papers in various places. For this new arrangement some of them have been extensively reworked, others less so. All of them reflect not only solitary study but the constant, and often frustrating, attempt to clarify Paul’s thought and expression in tutorials, seminars and lectures. The reason for publishing them here is simply that, while they form part of the essential underpinning for arguments that I wish to advance about Pauline theology as a whole, they are too long and detailed to be included as they stand within a volume that already promises to be large. They nevertheless belong closely with the wider task: study of Paul involves work in exegesis as well as in theology, history of religion, and hermeneutics, and exegesis is sometimes in danger of being swamped—even in commentaries!—by the other three. And I venture to think that these studies also belong quite tidily with each other.

The overall title reflects my growing conviction that covenant theology is one of the main clues, usually neglected, for understanding Paul, and that at many points in his writings, several of which are discussed in this book, what he says about Jesus and about the Law reflects his belief that the covenant purposes of Israel’s God had reached their climactic moment in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This suggestion, I am well aware, is controversial within the present climate of Pauline scholarship. I hope these essays will at least encourage colleagues who are used to reading Paul in other ways to consider this one more closely.

There can be no pretence of completeness about the book. Several passages of vital importance for understanding Paul’s thought about Christ and the Law are not discussed, or only mentioned in passing. The letter to the Romans, in particular, begs to be included all over the place, but apart from a few appearances will have to wait for another occasion. Nor do the chapters dealing with whole passages or sections of Paul pretend to be detailed commentaries: they ask specific questions and try to answer them, leaving aside many matters that a commentary would have to tackle. The annotation varies in quantity and level, partly as a result of the different provenance of the various chapters, partly because the secondary literature on some issues (for instance, the meaning of Philippians 2.6, discussed in . . .

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