Paul’s Central Themes: Creation and Covenant

So after a lot of changed plans and 12-hour shifts forcing me to miss writing about this, we move onto chapter two of Paul In Fresh Perspective: Creation and Covenant.  One of the things I really hate about academic theology is that you have to talk with their terms.  NT Wright understands this, and tends to oblige his audience, though I can sometimes see his desire to make things clear for everyone, That’s what I’m going to attempt here, in explaining these themes.

Creation:  this is central (along with covenant) to everything in the Old Testament and first century Judaic literature (writings such as The Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Ezra, and the writings of the Qumran Community, where we found the Dead Sea Scrolls). The universe and all its contents are creation, crafted by God and pronounced good.  King David, in Psalm 19, talks about how creation drives him to worship the creator.  The trouble with creation, however, is it is fractured by human failings to trust, praise, and honor God because of their own pride and self-idolatry.  This not only fractured our relationship with God, but also our relation to each other and to creation itself.  Creation cries out every day for redemption.

One thing that’s important about creation being so central in Jewish literature is that it shows that God’s aim is to renew Creation, not to abandon it.  Remembering this important aspect of this theme, we can retool our thinking about creation and how we interact with each day.  The goal is to fix and renew, not abandon.  This will come up more often later in the book.

Covenant: Also central to every writing mentioned above, covenant is the promise God made to Abraham and, subsequently, to all of us, to right creation through humans.  Known as the Torah to the Jewish people, the covenant was for Israel to keep, making them a light in the darkness, the people through whom God would right the world.  The trouble here is that Israel is part of the broken creation, and has doubled the problems by elevating their own nation and ethnicity above the rest of the world.  What was supposed to redeem the world (the Law) became for Israel another idol. By serving the Law, they found themselves all the more guilty and broken.

Appeals to both creation and covenant exist throughout Paul’s writings as the dominant theme, especially when he’s talking about Christ, which is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Through Christ, God did what the Law (and Israel) was supposed to do: renew creation.  For Paul, Christ is the embodiment of creation and covenant:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Wright gives other examples in this chapter of creation and covenant themes throughout Paul, but this one was shortest.  Look at how Paul describes the Messiah: all things were made through Him and for Him (Jesus as the Creator), and through him all things are reconciled to Himself (Jesus as the fulfillment of the Covenant).

Without these two themes, Paul’s writings just sound like an instruction manual for “how to be a good Christian,” which explains why Wright focuses so much on Jewish themes for Paul, allying himself with the NPoP in this regard.  We’re still staying true to orthodox Christianity, however, placing Jesus at the center of everything in Paul’s doctrine as well as in our own.  So far, so good.

For the record, this short post took almost two hours of slowly reading the second chapter of this darn book.  Wright can really make my head hurt sometimes.  I SHOULD see you guys tomorrow, if I don’t tire myself out more with chapter 3.  Later.

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