The Salvation of the Christians: The Cross, Part 2 (Paul and the Faithfulness of God)

Bible and crossNow, in Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 4), N. T. Wright attempts to explain why the early church saw Jesus as God while not denying monotheism — a tricky bit of theology if ever there was one — but a critically important one.

It was a matter of [the First Century Jews] pondering the promises of the One God whose identity, as Bauckham has rightly stressed, was made clear in the scriptures, and wondering what it would look like when he returned to Zion, when he came back to judge the world and rescue his people, when he did again what he had done at the Exodus.

Not for nothing had Jesus chosen Passover as the moment for his decisive action, and his decisive Passion. It was then a matter of Jesus’ followers coming to believe that in him, and supremely in his death and resurrection—the resurrection, of course, revealing that the death was itself to be radically re-evaluated—Israel’s God had done what he had long promised. He had returned to be king. He had ‘visited’ his people and ‘redeemed’ them. He had returned to dwell in the midst of his people. Jesus had done what God had said he and he alone would do. …

The most important thing was that in his life, death and resurrection Jesus had accomplished the new Exodus, had done in person what Israel’s God had said he would do in person. He had inaugurated God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. Scholars have spent too long looking for pre-Christian Jewish ideas about human figures, angels or other intermediaries. What matters is the pre-Christian Jewish ideas about Israel’s God. Jesus’ first followers found themselves not only (as it were) permitted to use God-language for Jesus, but compelled to use Jesus-language for the One God.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:654–655.

But if, (a) granted the expectation of YHWH’s return, (b) a would-be Messiah were to be raised from the dead and thereby vindicated as Messiah, ‘son of God’; if such a person were believed to have been exalted to heaven and enthroned as ‘lord’; and (c) if his followers were thereafter convinced that he was personally and powerfully present to and with them in a new mode—then the almost instantaneous rise of the christology we find already firmly established by the time of Paul is fully explained. The three elements converge to produce and provide something which none of them, by itself, would have been able to do.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:690–691.

What I am suggesting is that the resurrection, demonstrating the truth of Jesus’s pre-crucifixion messianic claim, joined up with the expectation of YHWH’s return on the one hand and the presence of the spirit of Jesus on the other to generate a fresh reading of ‘messianic’ texts which enabled a full christological awareness to dawn on the disciples. I do not think that pre-Christian Jews had read 2 Samuel 7, or Psalm 110 (‘YHWH says to my lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” ’), or Daniel 7 (‘one like a son of man’ being exalted to sit on a throne beside that of the ‘ancient of days’) in ways that anticipated, or could be said to be an antecedent cause of, the very early christology.

What I propose is that the combination of (a) the widely held expectation of the divine return to defeat Israel’s enemies and rescue his people and (b) Jesus’ resurrection, compelling the conclusion that he really was Messiah, created exactly the conditions within which, in a context of (c) worship and an awareness of the presence and power of the same Jesus, texts which had been there all along but never seen in this way (except, perhaps, in sayings of Jesus himself!) sprang into life. The earliest christology was thus firmly anchored in scripture, but the reading of scripture in question was highly innovatory, and did not itself generate the belief.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:692–694.

One might imagine the very early Christians, under the impact of the resurrection of Jesus and the fresh scriptural study which it precipitated, doing a variety of interlocking things very early on:

1. using theos for God the source and goal of all things, and Kyrios for Jesus, as in 1 Corinthians 8:6, aware that these corresponded to the Hebrew elohim and YHWH, and intending to stress both the unity and the differentiation between the two of them;
2. using the biblical term ‘father’ to denote God/theos/elohim;
3. drawing in the originally messianic title ‘son of God’, already in use for Jesus because of its Davidic overtones and because of Jesus’ own way of speaking, as the natural corollary of this ‘father’. The one denoted as theos is thus seen as ‘father’ specifically of this ‘son’, and the one denoted as Kyrios is seen as ‘son’ specifically of this ‘father’, even when that connection is not made explicitly;
4. speaking of ‘father and son’ in parallel to speaking of ‘God and lord’;
5. drawing on the ‘wisdom’ traditions, which were already in use in terms of both the return of YHWH to Zion (Sirach 24) and the equipping of David’s son for his royal task (Wisdom 7–9), to speak of the father ‘sending’ the son (Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4), and of the father transferring people into ‘the kingdom of the son of his love’ (Colossians 1:12–13, with the great ‘wisdom’-poem of 1:15–20 to follow), and of the Kyrios as the one through whom all things were made (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16);
6. understanding the whole sequence in terms of the climactic and decisive rescuing act of the one God, the new Exodus in which this God had revealed himself fully and finally precisely in fulfilling his ancient promises, saving his people and coming to dwell in their midst.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:697–698.

So this is pretty weighty theology, and it’s a challenging but valuable read. For now, the point is that the “faith” that saves becomes not only faith in God but also faith in Jesus as Messiah and LORD. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus is Lord.

Before the time of Jesus, this could not be confessed. The Ancients could only believe in a Messiah not yet revealed. Nor could the Ancients have anticipated the resurrection and ascension. These were only hinted at. And so the content of faith changed and didn’t change.

It changed by adding Jesus to the equation. It didn’t change in that Jesus was a part of YHWH all along.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to The Salvation of the Christians: The Cross, Part 2 (Paul and the Faithfulness of God)

  1. Price says:

    It’s interesting that Paul said if Jesus had not been raised from the grave then our faith would be in vain.. Apparently, the resurrection was absolutely key to the Messiah-ship of Christ… This made my head hurt… 🙂

  2. Dwight says:

    Actually, his death and his resurrection were both germaine to the our salvation. Hebrews 9: “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.”
    Perhaps this is why we are called to be die and be buried in baptism and raised with Christ in that we are not only entering Christ, but His testament.

  3. rich constant says:

    the last two day, i have had to work although with my 26 year old son and his best friend, that has been around the family”mine”of coarse we had an open door policy for all of them it was not uninstall for me to wake up on Saturday morning and cook breakfast for 6 or 8 young guys…
    they cleaned up, and were more than willing.
    well jay this yard ape, just took the” bar exam” so anyway my son has had my voice activation device.
    i do really hate to type….
    anyway we will finish today and i will have my phone…
    so never have read any of n.t.’s books
    i mean i don’t even have a bible…
    except on the phone… and the net on the computer…to say anything of these other guys,
    in fact until u put up a picture and a little bio. on moo i presumed he was Asian.
    although that went into the land of digital gloom & doom. talk about time management…
    quite honestly spend my time,

    in working with The Spirit of the LORD that lives and dwells in me….. chew on that.
    and if i am not mistaken that is a promise because of the righteousness of god the the (Trinity)…
    which is reviled as the Spirit of Christ .(Spirit of god glorifying God through the SON’S WORD’S GIVEN TO THE Disciples during the three years of his servitude to the gospel (WILL) BECAUSE OF THE RECONCILIATION the father’s very good creation….CLEANSING THE TRUE SANCTUARY ESTABLISH ING THE NEW TABERNACLE IN THE RISEN FLESHLY BODY OF JESUS THROUGH HIS FAITHFULNESS BY PROVING GODS FAITHFULNESS, BEING CURSED ON THE CROSS,THUS GOD IS RIGHTEOUS OR PERFECTLY FAITHFUL TO HIS WORD …AND THE SON GIVING GLORY TO THE FATHER BY BEING FAITHFULLY PERFECT TO THE FATHER’S WILL FOR all those that believe as reviled by the Spirit OF CHRIST(GOD)GIVING GLORY TO THE SON…BEING FAITHFUL TO GODS(TRINITY’S SCHEME OF REDEMPTION THROUGH THE FAITH OF CHRIST. OVERCOMING SIN , DEATH AND THE LAW …THUS
    2ND 3 COR… EARTHEN VESSELS CLAY JARS – CHAPTER-5-6…HOLD THE MYS-TRY FULFILLED

    THIS IS HOW I SEE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS OF ROMANS
    MY RIGHTEOUS ONE BY FAITH SHALL LIVE ROM.1:16 = BODY OF CHRIST IN THE SPIRIT
    THE NEW ISRAEL IN THE KINGDOM NEW CREATION, THE ISRAEL OF GOD SEED OF THE WOMAN WHO CRUSHED SATIN’S HEAD THE PROMISED SEED OF FAITH….

    keeping this short…
    I HATE TO TYPE…MUCH RATHER TALK.

    SORRY BOUT THE CAPS….

    OH YA
    IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS
    IN THE NEW COV,…
    ACTS10 ;1-10

  4. rich constant says:

    Jay
    in a nutshell that be,be that.

    now i would like to see what these other guys have to say…ntwright etc…
    i personally
    really don’t think they have rounded the corner yet… far be it that i should be ahead of them on this learning curve
    blessings all
    Richard constant
    😉

  5. rich constant says:

    imputed righteousness i referred to.
    talk about as plain the nose on your face
    cant see the forest for the tree..
    u guys are still hung up on baptism.
    BOY OH BOY

  6. rich constant says:

    AS A COMPAIRD TO WHAT.
    READ HEB 6 ….
    BOY OH BOY

  7. rich constant says:

    IMPUTED RIGHTEOUS….AGAIN SAME AS THE 120
    REAL SIMPLE
    EXCEPT FOR
    ONTOLOGY

  8. rich constant says:

    just goes to show ignorance is bliss
    rolol AT myself….

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