“The Gospels are the story of Jesus as the story of Israel coming to its climax as the story of Israel’s God coming back surprisingly in a way that we haven’t imagined.”
– from here.
“The Gospels are the story of Jesus as the story of Israel coming to its climax as the story of Israel’s God coming back surprisingly in a way that we haven’t imagined.”
– from here.
That’s a lot of stories. I like Wright – like him a lot – and I’m ok with this portrayal, but only given:
1. Gospel climax is not biblical culmination
2. Gospel fulfillment is not (necessarily) exhaustion of OT meaning/themes/prophecies/types, etc
Those are the two quibbles I frequently have with him; but I rather doubt it bothers him LOL
@Sean: Wright does make a distinction between climax and culmination. He doesn’t convolute the two. I’m not sure what you mean by your second point.
I like N.T. Wright but his presuppositions about Israel bug me. For example, here’s a few:
1. People, including N.T. Wright, presuppose that Israelites of the bible are known today (or at least are the same as modern Israelis). (This presupposition neither considers the warnings of [Rev 2:9][Rev 3:9] nor the impact of the separation of the House of Judah from the House of Israel. The bulk of Israel disappear from history 2700 years ago (or so) into the Assyrian Empire, while the smaller portion (namely the House of Judah) later was taken and return from Babylon. The House of Israel disappeared into the Assyrian Empire (to be sifted through the nations [Isa 30:28][Amos 9:9][Jer 5:15] eventually to end up in the Greek Empire ([1 Peter 1:1][James 1:1]).
Biblically, we cannot simply assume we know who Israel is today since God promised that they were to be ‘forgotten’ [Isa 42:16][Jer 30:14] and themselves forget [Isa 1:3][Jer 2:32][Jer 3:21][Jer 13:25][Jer 50:6][Hos 8:14] (except by God) [Isa 44:21].
2. People, including N.T. Wright, presuppose that all Jews are Israelites and all Israelites are Jews.
Not all Israelites are Jews. The Jews (House of Judah) were severed from Israel after Solomon’s death [1 Kings 12:15-17]. Only the House of Israel (Joseph’s Tribes) inherited the right to be called ‘Israel’ [Gen 48:15-16], the House of Judah did not. Moreover, ever after [1 Kings 12:15-17] the Jews were at war with the Israelites (for example [2 Kings 16:6] has Jewish king Ahaz [2 Kings 16:2] warring against Israelite King Pekah [2 Kings 15:32] and Syrian King Rezin [2 Kings 16:5]. Everafter (in the Bible) the Jews and the Israelites were either at war or the Israelites lost in Assyria; at no point re-united.
Likewise, not all Jews are Israelites. The entire nation of Edom was forcibly converted and integrated into the House of Judah under John Hyrcanus. This is why, for example, the Jewish King Herod was not even an Israelite!
So for N.T. Wright to claim that the Gospels are the story of Jesus as the story of Israel coming to its climax is just sheer arrogance, and folly as well. N.T. Wright has no idea if this is true simply because he has a false sense that he ‘knows’ Israel.
3. People, and N.T. Wright, also assume that the Bride [John 3:29][Rev 18:23][Rev 19:7] and the Bridegroom [Matt 25:1,5,6,10]of the NT [Rev 18:23] are different than the Bride [Isa 62:1-5][Isa 54:5-6][Jer 3:20] and the Bridegroom [Jer 3:20][Jer 31:32][Joel 1:8][Joel 2:16] of the OT. Or at least, the bridegroom is the same but there is this perception about the bride. This presupposition cannot simply be held without question, but needs to be proved biblically (and I don’t think that it can)!
@Andrew: Simple question (since you seem to be making assumptions about Wright’s work that don’t sound anything like his pattern of thought): Have you actually read his work?
Yes I have. Moreover, I also corresponded with him (when he was a Bishop).
I’ve also read E. P. Sanders, who I believe shares or has inspired his viewpoint.
Notwithstanding all of this, the criticisms I levelled above are not N.T. Wright only-isms but are as true for many other scholars as well.
(BTW I’m not saying I don’t like N.T. Wright – I do, but I don’t agree with ALL of his presuppositions (especially those he makes of Israel); I happen to think his view of biblical “Israelites”, is skewed by a-not-uncommon unjustified view of ‘historical Israel’)
@Andrew: My concern with your long list of proof texts is that it sounds more like a sociologist making claims regarding the reconstruction of “Israel” as a socio-political entity (which we know was never the same after exile) rather than someone asking how certain segments of Jews in the Second Temple Period may have understood themselves. While I understand your critique to a point it seems to ignore the concept of being a remnant that would have shaped those who returned from Babylon. While they were not untainted, unmixed “Israelites” they still thought of themselves as the true continuation of the story of the people who began with Abraham. If Jesus’ views were shaped in this context then I don’t see how your criticism applies. It seems to be a totally different language game.
However it seemed (to you), the argument made suggested that N.T. Wrights view is not correct because it is ill informed. The assertions were either true or false, the logic, if sound, results in conclusions that follow differing from Wrights view. Biblical and historically, these things can be tested; either to be accepted or rejected accordingly.
Take, for example, the assertion that the ‘Jews’ who Jesus encountered (and debated) contained a very large portion of Edomites who had converted: if this is true, however they saw themselves, means that we cannot judge ‘Israel’ or its climax based upon the Jews Jesus encountered, because we may be looking at sheep; thinking them goats. (It doesn’t matter that they saw themselves as a continuation of Israel if they were factually a continuation of Edom).
Likewise, if we look to the Hellenists, thinking them non-Israelites, though they may have indeed been gentilized Israelites, again we see things darkly.
@Andrew : Yet you still ignore how many Jews framed the discussion. You’re exceptions are not the rule. The Pharisees still had a vision for the nation. They still felt that they had an idea of what it meant for “their” national narrative to continue as it was framed by their Scriptures and traditions. The same is true of the Qumran community who thought of themselves as the true remnant who continued the narrative of the people of God. Likewise, Jesus as his disciples seemed to act as if they were the continuation of the story of Abraham’s family (e.g. Jesus’ decision to reconstitute “Israel” around his twelve disciples using the symbolism of twelve tribes). Later memory of Jesus continued this reconstruction. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark make this most evident, especially Matthew’s use of Scripture. That there were not hard-and-fast lines preventing some blurring of what it meant to be a true member of the continued people of God is not that important (except maybe to you).
Brian, I ignore how many Jews framed the discussion precisely because how they framed the discussion does not, in fact, determine whether Israel was indeed at its climax or not. [Romans 11:25] says “I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the nations has come in.” A partially hardened blindness hardly sounds like an apt description of ‘climax’.
However, I’m not sure what you mean by my exceptions are not the rule? Those assertions about the state of Israelites as a nation during the time of Jesus are biblical. What I take as the rule is that the bulk of Israelites who had been at war with the Jews [1 Kings 12:21][2 Kings 16:6] (and were not known as Jews) were not of the tribe of Judah which had been taking to Babylon. Rather, they were the tribes taken to Assyria [2 Kings 18:11][2 Kings 17:6][1 Chron 5:26]. We’re talking about the House of Joseph here, which represented the bulk of Israel (all but 2 full tribes). [Ezra 1:5] lists Judah, Benjamin and Levi as having returned from Babylon (as does [Ezra 2:1] which names the House of Judah by name). This corresponds exactly to those who were of the House of Judah [1 Kings 12:21]. If there is evidence this is not what happened (i.e that this was not the rule), I’m open to it.
Likewise, if the entire nation of Edom was not mixed with what remained of the tiny southern Kingdom, converted and become known as Jews under John Hyrcanus, leaving Judah with an Edomite King (Herod and kin) who called himself a Jew. (I might add, that given the House of Judah had been slaves in Egypt and in Babylon, only an Edomite could answer Jesus “They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” since only Edomites had been offspring of Abraham and never enslaved. But again I’m open evidence.
My belief that this was the ‘rule’ rather than the ‘exception’ is biblical, as far as I can tell.
WRT to the Qumran community, the scrolls 1QM and 4Q491-497 suggest that the Qumran community was also put out by the false Edomites in Jerusalem who claimed to be Judeans (but where not) [Rev 2:9][Rev 3:9]. In Qumran, they called them “Sons of Darkness”. Its not clear then, that the Qumran community was wrong in their beliefs.
In any event, are you suggesting by your examples that this ‘house divided’ partially hardened, was as N.T. Wright says – at its climax?
@Andrew: Yes, yes, I am saying that very thing! In Messiah Israel had reached the pinnacle of it’s story. Again, your points about Israel intermixing with the nations seems mute. As if Israel had not intermixed while retaining their identity as the people of God and children of Abraham connected to the covenant. Now climax doesn’t mean culmination, but it does mean highest point in the narrative where the main character and primary actions are introduced. Jesus as the main character and his introduction of the Kingdom of God serve perfectly as the high point of Israel’s story that led to the Abrahamic promise of the nations being blessed.
Brian, I see where the difference of opinion lies. We appear to understanding ‘climax’ in slightly different ways because the object of our attention differs. In this story there is both a Bride (Israel), and a Bridegroom (Christ). To claim Israel reached its climax in Christ is ambiguous – if it only considers the Role of Bridegroom and ignores the Bride.
I agree that the Messiah represents the perfect Israelite (Israel meaning to have power with God, [Gen 32:28] – from the Hebrew שרה sarah H8280). The idea being that the rock which is Christ [1 Cor 10:4] exemplars the living stones [1 Peter 2:5] His people were to become, notwithstanding his role as kinsman redeemer. As an Israelite, and kinsman redeemer, Jesus stove with God (against the captivity of sin) which is what the name “Israel” means. If that’s how you believe N.T. Wright to be arguing – I’ll accept that Christ was the best thing that came out of Israel, and completely fulfilled the meaning of the name ‘Israel’, though we’re really saying something about the Bridegroom rather than the Bride in this case. No arguments.
However, apart from Christ’s role as kinsman redeemer hailing from the House of David, I don’t believe we can ignore God’s elect, the Bride, and His purpose for them (in considering this). If we consider the marriage of the lamb to include both Bridegroom and Bride, I still don’t believe it was Israel’s climax (though a perfect Israelite had met the conditions of the covenant, perfectly). I continue to claim that N.T. Wright’s assessment specifically doesn’t gauge both Bride and Bridegroom because he doesn’t recognize Israel biblically; so he only understand Bridegroom. He recognizes a Historical people whose relationship to the House of Judah is dubious at best so he is unable to gauge the marriage of the lamb, and focus’ instead on what he does recognize.
If God had a plan and a role for Israel as a nation [Exo 19:6][Rev 1:6][Rev 5:20] as a consequence of Christ, then another way to gauge if Israel was at its climax is to look at the marriage itself (including both Bride and Bridegroom in covenant). This is clearly outlined in [Eze 37:1-27] We know that this Ezekiel chapter is messianic because of [Eze 37:14] where God is to put His spirit in them, and [Eze 37:24], which is a clear reference to Christ, being the ‘one shepherd’.
[Eze 37:15] shows that the House of Judah (Jews) would be joined to the House of Joseph (stick of Ephraim; not Jews) and gather them from where they had been scattered [Jer 9:16][Jer 10:21][Jer 13:24][Jer 18:17] etc. If you agree that I’m gauging Israel’s climax differently; as both Bride and Bridegroom, that I’m gauging it from the perspective of [Eze 37] as to whether or not the sticks had been joined, the scattered reformed, and both Houses made into a kingdom of Priests, you’ll agree that my point about the need to properly recognize Israel biblically, rather than historically, is valid.
Andrew T. are you suggesting that “Israelite” can be defined as a blood connection to people who defined themselves as Israel at a certain date in time? So when the Christian bible refers to Israelites, it might mean literal DNA descendants of Abraham or Moses and not the people who lived as Israelites?
@Andrew : Though I think Wright’s take and my own do include the bride of Israel’s narrative. This is where the concept of remnant enters. For Jesus, the remnant of true Israel are those who become his followers. The Apostle Paul takes this step further in Romans 9-11 wherein it is Messianic Jews + engrafted Gentiles into Abraham’s family. If we follow the Pauline take on this subject that just because someone is genetically a descendant of Abraham doesn’t mean they will remain part of “Israel”. Likewise, someone who may not have been part of “Israel” becomes part of the people of God by grace through faith in Messiah.
John the Baptist seems to have stood in this line of thought with his “children from these stones” comment. Qumran’s vision of “Israel” is the same, though they were misguided in how the true remnant was to be defined.
@bondboy We cannot deny that the promise itself was an inheritance because God said that it would be ([Deut 12:28][Deut 29:29][Ezra 9:12][Isa 59:21][Jer 32:39][Eze 37:25] citing [Gen 17:7-8])
Paul (in Romans) makes it clear that this inheritance did not simply fall to all of Abraham’s offspring, but that faith is what determined who would or would not inherit the covenant. [Romans 9] is quite revealing; it contains a warning about Israelites Jews saying not all Israel are of Israel. In other words, not all who claim Israelite citizenship are descendants of Israel (Jacob) and thus exhibit true faith ( “πάντες οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ οὗτοι Ἰσραήλ” ) [Rom 9:6]. Recall that Israel, like Isaac and Abraham before him, is the one who had faith, just as Ishmael, and Esau did not. Clearly if descendants of Esau had become known as ‘Jews’ but lacked the faith of Abraham their forefather, simply calling them Jews (Judeans) did not make them ‘true’ Israelites.
Paul points this out again in [Rom 9:7] which says that Ishmael, who was also Abraham’s offspring, did not inherit the promise because of lack of faith, but Isaac did because of faith. Likewise, Esau did not inherit the promise, but Jacob (Israel) did [Rom 9:13].
All of these examples possessed Abraham’s blood, and therefore could have inherited the covenant (because of God’s promise) but only those with faith did. In [Rom 9:25-26] Paul quotes Hosea’s prophecy about the House of Judah and the House of Israel [Hos 1:11] found in [Hos 2:23] which is the same as the prophecy I cited above in [Eze 37]. Paul also quotes Isaiah’s prophecy of the same thing ([Rom 9:27] quotes [Isa 10:22-23]; [Rom 9:29] quotes [Isa 1:9]; and [Rom 9:33] quotes [Isa 28:16])
@Brian – you are spiritualizing Israel to make your theology work (in fact it’s a heresy known as ‘replacement theology’). You’re making scripture match your theology rather than theology match scripture.
WRT to John’s comments, he was pointing at the non-believing people, uncircumcised of hearts and minds [Acts 7:51] (descendants of Abraham either Judeans or Edomites). God is without shade or variation, and so is his word. The true branch, the protected hedge, the kingdom, has always been Israel [Isa 1:8][Isa 3:14][Isa 5:1-5][Hos 2:6][Micah 7:4]. Notice [Isaiah 5:7] says clearly “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah, are his pleasant planting;”. When you look at the tree and the wild branch being grafted in, realize that the tree is Judah the the wild branch the House of Israel ([Isa 5:4-5] shows us that the House of Israel has become wild).
Israel is an actual people, not a spiritual one. Paul says this [Romans 9:4], so does the author of Hebrews [Heb 8:8] quoting Jeremiah [Jer 31:31]. This is exactly my point .. how can anyone say Israel hit its climax with its saviour, when they are spiritualizing failing to recognize Israel altogether. If we’re going to say Israel hit its climax, he had better recognize Israel clearly, and literally.
@Andrew : It is becoming quite obvious that we interpret John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and maybe even the Qumran sect quite differently on this matter. I have not denied that Israel was a real people, but I think your strict definition ignores the fluid understanding of what constitutes “Israel” in the eyes of Second Temple Jews and most early Christians. It is common place for one group to denounce the status of another as being truly part of the people of God.
Again, this concept of remnant is straightforward from the Baptist to Paul. There is a major difference between “spiritualizing’ (as you say) and the “redefining” that we see in this literature. Obviously, we don’t share the same hermeneutical paradigm and that chasm will not allow us to move much further.
I appreciate your many references to Scripture but referencing a text doesn’t necessarily mean one is doing all that well at interpreting it. Apparently, you are quite passionate about this subject since you feel like it is OK to introduce the serious label of “heresy” in a nonchalant manner. But that makes you not worth the time necessary for dialog. Thank you for the attempt at interaction thus far, but I will bow out now since our impasse is leading you to the type of posture that effectively ends any attempt at better understanding each other.
Brian, I take the Bible plainly and literally, and you’re right I don’t take liberties in hermeneutics. The bible should be taken according to it’s plain and obvious meaning. I see nothing wrong with this approach. Judging what John means is a hermeneutic exercise, and again I take John (and Paul) plainly as though they both understand the OT. I agree that because someone is genetically a descendant of Abraham doesn’t mean they will remain part of “Israel” but that does not mean God’s inheritance to Abraham has been given the descendants of another. Again I point out [Rom 9:4]. Clearly the Edomites were “of Abraham” (i.e. descendants) but that IS who Paul was talking about in Romans who did not inherit the covenant. We know Edomites were (re)claiming the birthright by calling themselves “Jews” (Judeans). [Romans 9:13] specifically contrasts the Edomites to the Israelites citing [Mal 1:3]; but follow Paul’s thought for a second – the children of the flesh mentioned in [Rom 9:8] are Ishmaelites (also descendants of Abraham), but the covenant passed onto Abraham’s descendant Isaac. Likewise, the comparison of Esau and Jacob (both descendants of Abraham) but only one inherited the covenant, the other not. None of this is talking about non-Israelites. It is only talking about the children of Abraham.
we have an obligation to discover the apostles’ hermeneutic. The only way to interpret this, the way you seem to be favouring, is if we ignore the meaning of the OT being quoted. However, there’s a big clue here; Paul’s hermeneutic use of the OT shows us how he understands it. How is Paul understanding Hosea? The only way to know is to go back to the OT and compare Pauls use of it in context. Who are the people God labels “not my people” Paul is arguing about, for example? Paul knows Hosea and Hosea says (in [Hos 1:6-11]) that “not my people” and “no mercy” are none other than the House of Judah and the House of Israel (therefore I have good cause to believe Paul and the OT). Hosea’s quote [Hos 2:2,7,16] directly supports God’s additional claim to be Israel’s husband in [Isa 54:5] and [Jer 3:20]. To fail to consult what Paul is citing is to be ignorant of the plain meaning of Hosea. This allows one to construct a false theology of “Israel” vs “non-Israel” but that’s not what Paul is saying (he understands Hosea and is quoting it in context).
I’ve already shown that his quoting of Isaiah is exactly consistent with his quote of Hosea. Go back and read each case of Paul’s OT quotes. In every case he’s talking about God dealing with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, or Israel and Edom.
WRT my quoting of the bible because I expect the bible speaks plainly – when Hebrews 8:8 says for example “I will establish a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah” – I don’t need to explain that to others; rather it speaks for itself. If you can show me where I’ve mis-intrpreted something – I’d be happy to be taught. (WRT to my use of ‘heresy’, to reject the notion that Israel were God’s people, is that not a rejection of what the bible plainly teaches? Are you familiar with ‘replacement theology’? If replacement theology is not heresy, what is?)
I disagree with you that (1) Scripture is not always “plain and literal”; (2) that the use of the OT in the NT or more broadly the use of the OT in STJ shows the Jewish interpreters were quite creative with their redefining of biblical terminology; and (3) that you’ve “shown” anything; (4) I am advocating “replacement theology” (I am not denying those who are physically Israel are part of the remnant, but merely that not all who are “Israel” are Israel); or (5) that this is a question of orthodoxy or heresy.
Again, thank you for your time. We’re not going to make progress in this discussion. We will have to agree to disagree because the tone and approach of your comments lend me to think that you are not interested in what I have to say. I accept that you read these passages differently than I do.
Brian, I believe scripture is plan and literal, but our ecclesiastical doctrines, or our false sense we understand history clearly, flavour our presuppositions; therefore (I believe) it is we who get in the way of reading and believing the bible plainly. I believe God intended the bible to be understood.
As to all of your other point, I was addressing N.T. Wright’s position (as I understand it). I assumed you were representing his position not your own in presenting counter points. I’m sorry you felt my tone indicated that I’m not interested in what you have to say; I didn’t realize that you were advocating your own position, or I would have been less blunt. I thought you were advocating on behalf of N.T. Wright. I hope you can forgive.
Thank you for the dialogue. Perhaps you’re right, we must agree to disagree. It is positive then, that we at least end our discussion on this agreement. You have been gracious and engaging. Thank you for that as well.
@Andrew : While Wright’s position is not my own I do share much of his broader views. I accept the apology. I think it is always best to side on caution regarding the word heresy. It is a serious claim and it shouldn’t be equivalent to merely “I don’t think your position holds a strong biblical base.” Heresy should be limited to those major errors in the history of the church that were recognized as so.
In the future I will post more on the OT in the NT and maybe provide some case studies. I’d welcome future dialogue. I hope that with more specific examples we can come to better understand each other.
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