Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire, by N.T. Wright

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The good Bishop of Durham has summed up a lot of things quite concisely in one article that I spend pages and pages on this blog discussing. He goes briefly over passages from Romans and Philippians within the framework of a discussion of the term “Gospel” and Paul’s conception of Jesus as Messiah and Lord with some closing reflections on the subversive nature of the Gospel and how we might think about it today. It is especially worth reading for his brief statements on the idea of God’s righteousness/justice (the same Greek word, dikaiosune, can be translated both ways) vis-à-vis the Roman goddess/concept of Iustia.

I do find it interesting that he mentions that “the subversive Gospel is not designed to produce civic anarchy”. For all his care to avoid anachronistically reading back Protestant and modern categories into the ancient texts, including ideas such as equating “Gospel” with the doctrine of justification through faith and the history-of-religions approach that separates “religious” ideas in ancient texts from “political” ideas (just as modern thought tends to do), this seems to me to be a rather uncritical use of the term “anarchy”.

I agree that the purpose of the Gospel is not to replace one human political order with another (which is one of the thrusts of Romans 13), and I also agree that there is a kind of affirmation of the structures in scripture that have become the fallen powers and principalities, in that humans need structures to aid us in living life – but at the same time Christ is Lord over the powers and the church, I believe, is called to be involved in working to create redeemed structures to help us govern our lives. Anarchy as a political philosophy can very much be cast in those terms, though I tend to think more in line with my friend Bruce Wright’s idea that the ideal church would be made up of people who “live anarchistically in community”.

This is not to say that Tom Wright is dissing anarchists here, at most the question of anarchy is tangental to the whole article, but it’s interesting to me that he is generally so careful in how he relates present-day ideas to ancient texts and when the term “anarchy” comes up he seems to be rather uncritical.


3 Responses

  1. people living “anachistically in community” sounds intiguing to me. Not sure what is meant. It sounds a bit like a contradiction, but you’ve got me curious.

  2. Sounds like a contradiction? Why?

  3. Why do a lot of people (mainly in protestantism) have realized that gospel is just “the doctrine of justification by faith?

    Well, we must recognize, that in fact, the main goal has been the salvation through faith. But this is a naive way to see how it works. Off course, we are justified by faith, and thus, thats the way we reach salvation. But is the gospel (and thus, the complete message of Jesus) just that? I think that there are some lot of things in the Bible that most of the time we just ignore.

    Thanks for the link to N.T. Wright article. JAH bless you all.

    Sebastián (mountainguy).

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