N.T. Wright on the Story Behind Paul’s Gospel

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storyN.T. Wright will be at Oklahoma Christian University on March 24-25 to give a lecture. This is pretty exciting for me as I am a big fan. In tribute, I am posting this powerful excerpt from his new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.1 This particular section was recently discussed at the OC Preacher’s Luncheon by Dr. John Harrison, the video for which is available online if you want to see some explanation of the statements below (Dr. Harrison’s part of the discussion starts at the 11:55 mark in the video). I’ve put this excerpt into the “devotional” category of my blog, because I think it presents an important thought for reflection and possibly for sharing in some way with your congregation.

Overarching narrative mattered enormously in the world of Saul of Tarsus. He, and for that matter other Pharisees, Essenes, revolutionaries of various sorts, and no doubt plenty of other Jews too, were not wondering primarily how they could develop their own piety. They were not asking how they might find their way out of this world to ‘heaven.’ Nor were they simply saying, ‘We are fed up with our present rulers; let’s hope our God will do something to help’, and then going back to a few ancient oracles to see if there were hints as to how such a deliverance might come about. They were more like people who find themselves hired to act in a play, only to find that they are cast in roles which come on state in the fifth act, and that to grasp what’s going on, and hence the particular nuances of the lines they have to speak, they must understand the full flow of the much longer drama which has already taken place, and particularly the questions that are to be resolved. They have (to change the image) been thrust into the stadium to run a race, but it turns out to be a multi-leg relay race in which they are carrying the baton for one of the legs near the end of the sequence, where they will carry the weight of the previous efforts, mishaps, false starts and so on. They have pulled a book off the library shelf, called ‘My Life’, only to discover that it is Volume 99 in a hundred-volume narrative, and that to make sense of who they are supposed to be they have to recall the entire narrative of the first ninety-eight volumes, and read ahead into number 100 to find out how it’s all supposed to end.

We can play about with these images a long time, as long as the point comes across. The Bible was not merely a source of types, shadows, allusions, echoes, symbols, examples, role-models and other no doubt important things. It was all those, but it was much, much more. It presented itself as a single, sprawling, complex but essentially coherent narrative, a narrative still in search of an ending. And one of the central features of the implicit story in the mind and heart of a first-century Pharisee, sectarian or revolutionary was the weight of that continuing narrative, the responsibility to take it forward, the possibility that all its threads might now come together, that the rich tapestry of Israel’s history would disclose its full pattern at last, that the faithfulness of the one true God would be revealed to them but also through them.

  1. N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Part 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 115-116. 

Follow Benjamin Williams:

Pulpit Minister for Glenpool Church of Christ (Glenpool, OK); BS in Astrophysics from University of Oklahoma; MDiv in Ministry from Oklahoma Christian Graduate School of Theology

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