Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays (eds) (2011). Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
This is the sixth part of a series Brian LePort and I are tackling out of this book, which is based off the most recent Wheaton Conference. Scroll to the bottom of this entry and you will be provided with links to previous posts that cover previous chapters and moreover a schedule for future entries. Lastly, thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book.
Edith Humphrey, “Glimpsing the Glory: Paul’s Gospel, Righteousness, and the Beautiful Feet of N.T. Wright.”
For every chapter I’ve written a review on, I make sure to watch the paper presentation prior to writing the actual review. After watching Edith Humphrey present her paper, I said to myself “Man, if there ever is somebody who is as good an orator as Tom Wright, while at the same time a Bible scholar, it’s Edith.” So, I highly recommend that you listen to her presentation.
Edith starts with a comedic story about her huge feet. She jokingly remarks that “I am much comforted that in Isaiah and Romans beautiful feet have less to do with size or shape [her's being size 11 and width E] than with direction or alacrity.” This leads into a compliment about where Tom Wright’s feet have walked. So, she says:
“First, they enter the ancient world, and especially the Scriptures, which this herald invokes as a lamp for his feet and a light to mark the path. Second, they have gone into the camp of the faithful, into debate among other New Testament scholars (including those who also bear the label “New Perspective”) and into the tangled field of the public arena.”
From here she attempts to show at a few points “where these beautiful feet may have misstepped or halted.”
At this point, I want to give a precursor point. Perhaps I am missing something, but in this presentation, it is seemingly the case that just as much time, if not more, is given to Wright’s work on Jesus in the Gospels (and some to 2 Peter) as is given to his work on Paul. I say this because she was placed within the Pauline section of the book.
Now on to the presentation. Humphrey makes three points of critique (though I’m not sure of the actual critique on the third):
- Righteousness (dikaiosyne)
Righteousness: Edith is convinced of Wright’s interpretation of diakaiosyne, with the exception of one occasion. This occasion is 2 Corinthians 5:21. She argues that Wright misconstrues Paul here in order to maintain a clear demarcation throughout the corpus that what is being discussed is not imputed righteousness, but the righteousness of God. So, “Bishop Tom mitigates the shock by reference to apostolic activity: St. Paul and the others “incarnate or embody God’s diakaiosyne as they proclaim God the Reconciler.”
To the contrary, she argues that Paul is not referring to the ministry of the Apostles, but rather the “we” in 5:21 is a reference to all believers. And it is only in this case does Bishop Wright’s view seem to be wrong concerning dikaiosyne.
Apocalyptic: Before going into her critique of Wright’s work on apocalyptic language and imagery, she does a brief overview of it in NTPG. She hails Wright as one who has saved historical Jesus studies from the Schweitzerian literalism that painted Jesus as a failed doomsday prophet.
Though she acclaims Wright for this, she has scruples with him as well. She believes that Wright’s interpretation of apocalyptic language and imagery is too narrow-minded and either-or in nature. She says “My own work with apocalypses makes me uneasy about his suggestion that we are to defang apocalyptic symbols as merely political, and not also to receive them as pointers to heavenly or future realities interconnected with our own lives. It is a matter of the direction of the reference and the taming of the symbol.” So, where Mark 13 is about the destruction of the Temple for Wright, for Edith it’s about the destruction of the Temple and the later return of Christ.
A second point of disagreement that she has with Wright is his view on the renewal of the heavens and the earth. She thoroughly disagrees that 2 Peter 3:10 has envisioned a renewed heavens and earth. Supporting her argument, she shows that in 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra the cosmic destruction envisioned was thought to be very literal, thus in Wrightian fashion shows this belief was, to some Jews, about of their belief system.
Ascension: After listening to, and reading her presentation, I can’t for the life of me figure out where she’s critiquing Wright on the ascension. Even Wright in his response can’t seem to figure out her point.
What I can draw from it is that us, as the church, need to maintain an emphasis on currently being seated with Christ (spiritual redemption) in heavenly places, but also, just as the ascended Christ is human, we as the church ought to expect resurrection (physical redemption) as well.
Righteousness: Wright’s position on righteousness in 2 Corinthians 5:21 doesn’t change. He argues that we need to resist larger frameworks, Reformational or Orthodox (as it is in this case) and let Paul be Paul. It seems evident to Wright that the context is clearly about apostolic leadership and not the general body of Christ.
Apocalyptic: Wright in response to Edith shows that he is wary of “opening the door too far to an unfettered world of supposedly apocalyptic theology.” and remarks that Edith moves far beyond Paul by making a point about the views presented in 2 Peter. He also mentions that he isn’t “averse to contemplating ways in which Jesus’ prediction of the fall of Jerusalem might provide a template for the larger questions raised by Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and so on.”
Ascension: Wright seems to not know her critique of him on the ascension. The only point he makes in response is that “I am in principle happy with theosis as part of an account of Paul’s soteriology or anthrpology. But here we meet once more with the problem of Scripture and tradition.” His final point, full of Wrightian swagger is “Tradition is important, but I will drink to Paul first and to tradition afterward.”
I think Eden’s presentation was fantastic. And though she strayed from Paul, I still think many points of importance were mentioned. Though actually I’m not persuaded by her interpretation of 2 Cor. 5:21 (the actual part on Paul), I am very open to her thoughts on apocalyptic language and imagery. I once had a class entitled “Jewish and Early Christian Apocalypticism.” with a specialist on apocalyptic language and imagery. It was him who convinced me that laden within apocalyptic is a sense of ambiguity and not always a one-way interpretation.
Where I do diverge with her, and seemingly almost the rest of the presenters is the stock placed in church tradition. It is important, but as Wright says, Paul first, then tradition.
All in all, a great chapter. I recommend you buy the book, read this chapter, and also listen to the presentation!
Schedule for this series:
07/06: Edith M. Humphrey, “Glimpsing the Glory: Paul’s Gospel, Righteousness, and the Beautiful Feet of N.T. Wright” (Daniel James Levy)
07/13: Jeremy S. Begbie, “The Shape of Things to Come? Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies” (Brian LePort)
07/20: Markus Bockmuehl, “Did St. Paul Go to Heaven When He Died? (Daniel James Levy)
07/27: Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and Protestant Soteriology” (Brian LePort)
08/03: N.T. Wright, “Whence and Whither Pauline Studies in the Life of the Church?” (Daniel James Levy)