Thursday, February 03, 2005

Wright on Israel's place in God's plan of Salvation 

N.T. Wright has often claimed that God sent His Son to do for Israel what Israel could not do for herself. It was the historical failure of Israel that precipitated, in some sense, the advent of Christ. At this point one might wonder whether Jesus is God's 'Plan B', with Israel being 'Plan A'. The following quote, from the middle of the sixth talk in Wright's Romans in a Week lectures helps to clarify his position:—

[Paul] is exonerating the Torah from blame again. He’s done that in terms of how sin arrived; he’s now doing it in terms of how sin continues. Verse 20: “If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” And, going back to verse 13: “It was not the good thing that brought death to me, it was sin.” So, the Torah is exonerated and, actually, so is the ‘I’. The ‘I’ — the Israel — is in this strange state of finding things happening which the ‘I’ does not want. And so the Torah is exonerated and the ‘I’ is exonerated; it is sin which is highlighted as the real guilty culprit. That’s the first thing that I want you to notice.

The second thing is the two ‘in order that’s in verse 13…. Let me give it to you in the Greek: “But it was sin, in order thathina — it might appear as sin, working death in me through the good thing, in order that sin might become exceedingly sinful through the commandment.” Now, when you get that ‘in order that’ … we have a sense of the purpose of God. We have a sense of the purpose of God, which goes back to Romans 5:20 again: “The Law came in alongside so that — hina — the trespass might abound.” What on earth was God up to, giving the Torah, if this was its designed effect? Surely God wanted His people to be holy, not to become more sinful! Surely if God was giving the Torah in order to make sin increase that was an act of wickedness on God’s part! The strange thing is, when you put Romans 7 and Romans 8 together, you see that, under this very concept within this little word hina, we have actually an entire atonement theology, because God’s purpose in the Torah … was to draw sin together into one place … in order that Israel’s representative might take the weight of that sin onto Himself, so that, as Paul says in 8:3-4, sin could be condemned at that one point, so that the deceiver is deceived. Sin has deceived me, but now by the Torah God is, as it were, deceiving sin, drawing sin into one place where it can at last be dealt with.

I hadn’t seen this until about three years ago when I was lecturing on Romans and I got to this point in my lectures, and I looked at verse 13 and I thought: “it is very odd, those two ‘hina’s, those two ‘in order that’s, because it really does look like the divine purpose.” And suddenly a light went on in my mind and I thought of Romans 8:3-4, where Paul talks about God condemning sin in the flesh. You see, in atonement theology from that day to this people have constantly said, “how can it be that the death of one human being 2000 years ago is relevant for me?” And most Christians, including most within the evangelical tradition, have answered in terms of an abstract atonement theology — an atonement theology which works in mid air somewhere — unrelated to the physicality, to the specificity, of Israel’s history and indeed of Jesus — a transaction which takes place purely at a spiritual level. But it seems to me from my study of Jesus on the one hand, and then from my study of Paul on the other, there’s something much more concrete going on.

Israel was the chosen people of God. Let’s recapitulate. Why did God choose this people? Answer: to deal with the sin of the world. How were they to deal with the sin of the world? By simply teaching the world great truths? That’s not going to touch the depth of the problem of sin. No, sin is a power — a force — which must be condemned and Israel is God’s answer to the problem of sin, because Israel is the place where sin is to be drawn together into one point. Not so that ethnic Israel might be altogether condemned, but so that ethnic Israel can hand her horrible burden of election onto the elect Messiah, who will then die on the cross as sin is there condemned. That is, I think, the major point of atonement theology, which undergirds this whole chapter and which is actually the best way that I have yet seen of getting at the heart of Paul’s whole theology of the cross.

So, 13 to 20, the purpose of the Torah finds Israel caught up in this strange dilemma. Israel was not meant to be a kind of paradigmatic example of how people get saved. Israel was part of the historical purpose of God, which was always going to remain ambiguous until Christ died on the cross as the fulfilment of that.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?