Monday, March 16, 2009

NT Wright on the desctruction of Jerusalem in Paul's thought

Continuing the futurist/preterist discussion started by Sarah B, here is a pertinent quote from Tom Wright who argues that the destruction of Jerusalem was the imminent apocalyptic event that Paul was aware of and that the second coming of Christ and renewal of creation was something much further away on Paul's eschatalogical horizon.

"[T]here are some passages in Paul which are often taken to refer to this final apocalypse, but which Paul probably did not intend that way. When he speaks of God's wrath coming 'at last' upon the inahabitants of Judea (1 Thessalonians 2.16) he is probably not thinking of the great moment he describes in chapter 4, but of an interim judgement, warned of by Jesus himself, on the city and on the people that had rejected their messiah. Indeed, when he grieves over his fellow Jews in Romans 9-11, I think part at least of that grief is conditioned by his awareness that they are living under the shadow of impending national disaster. Likewise, when he writes in 2 Thessalonians that the young church should not be worried if they got a letter saying that the Day of the Lord had arroved, it is clear that he cannot be referring to anything of the same order as the renewal of creation in Romans 8 or the royal presence of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4 or 1 corinthians 15 - still less to the end of the space-time universe, which the Thessalonians themselves would presumably have noticed. Her again I think Paul is aware - and his allusions to what we know as Matthew 24 and parallels may bear this out - that early tradition included solemn warnings from Jesus himself about the imminent destructino of Jerulsalem and the Temple. This is the event which had to happen within a generation; and this, I think - though this is boud to be controversial - is why Paul felt a sense of urgency in his mission to the gentile world, which has commonly been thought of as a feature of his apocalyptic style theology theology. It was not that he had to save as many many people as he could, a quick representative sample, before the ultimate end of things. It was that he had to plant stable Jew-plus-Gentile churches on Gentile soil before the event occured which would make Jews blame the Christians for letting the side down, and which woul invite Gentiles to sneer at Jews for having lost their home and capital city. Here as elsewhere, when we understand Paul's apocalyptic theology we will find it rooted within and referring to, actual historical events."

[Source: NT Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 56]

1 comment:

  1. wow - meaty passage from a book that I own, but have not got to yet (shame, coz Wright is one of my faves)...

    As usual with Wright, every sentence is carefully phrased, avoiding ditches on both sides of the interpretive road, so to speak...

    Cheers for this - very interesting.

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