Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Wright, Luther and the Gospel

N.T. Wright has argued, relying mainly on Romans 1.3-4, that Paul’s gospel is fundamentally the christological announcement that Jesus is the Messiah (in fulfilment of the great Jewish hope) and the true Lord of the world (over against the claims of the imperial cult). I think Wright is correct in what he affirms, but he unfortunately marginalizes (though he certainly does not deny) the soteriological aspect of Paul’s gospel as exhibited in 1 Corinthians 15.1-8, which focuses on the saving benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Nevertheless, Wright’s exegesis of Romans 1.3-4 finds a staunch ally in 2 Timothy 2.8 (side stepping the issue of authorship): "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel", and here the gospel is again christologically packed and eschatologically driven by the resurrection – soteriology is not present, but strongly implied I think. I would like to see Wright bring 1 Corinthians 15 a bit more into discussion of the Pauline gospel, all the same, those who think Wright has distorted the gospel or else is too enamoured with narrative approaches to Paul should consider the following quote from Luther:

“The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.” (Martin Luther, “A brief instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels,” in Luther’s Works [ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; 55 vols.; Fortress: Philadelphia, 1960] 35.118.)

This sounds almost like Wright! And here in Luther’s passing remark we find three elements of the gospel interwoven together, Christology, Soteriology and Narrative – this is a succinct and poetic description and I couldn’t have put it better myself. It also means that Luther was doing narrative theology 400 years before it became fashionable! Which reminds me of the words of Stephen Westerholm who states that in case of Luther “exegesis is learned from the masters” (pace those who want to emancipate NT study from its Lutheran spectacles!).

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