Mr Bingley and Romans 9-11 image

Mr Bingley and Romans 9-11

The last in the series of excerpts from Tom Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God, with the best punchline of the lot:

We have seen that 9.30—10.13 stands in between the two elements of this basic narrative. That is the new thing, the messianic story which has intruded, functioning now as the fulcrum around which everything else moves. There is a rough sense, in fact, in which chapter 9 is about the past, chapter 10 about the present and chapter 11 about the future. But 10.5–13, and indeed the immediately larger section to which it belongs, 9.30—10.13, is not itself part of the great narrative. It stands upright in the middle of that story, the telos of all that has gone before – and perhaps, though Paul does not put it like this, the arch of all that will now follow. It is the messianic moment, the ‘but now’, the sudden sabbath which creates a new sort of time, a heaven-and-earth time, a time when the ‘word’, the rhēma Christou, can leap down from heaven and do its work of replacing the thorn with the myrtle, its work of renewing and circumcising hearts so that they can believe and confess the gospel. The Messiah is both in time and out of time, transforming time itself and inevitably therefore eschatology too. Romans 9—11 thus exhibits in its very literary form the combination of (what ought to be meant by) ‘salvation history’ on the one hand and (what ought to be meant by) ‘apocalyptic’ on the other. God has done, in the middle of Israel’s history but disrupting and rearranging that history, the thing he had always promised. And only in the light of that ‘vertical’ disruption does the ‘horizontal’ narrative, from Abraham to the ‘remnant’ in chapter 9 and from the ‘remnant’ to the fulfilment of the patriarchal promises in chapter 11, make the sense it does.

But this messianic moment, even though it has a different character in relation to time before and time after, nevertheless does belong at the centre of precisely this narrative. To this extent, we might even see Romans 9—11 not simply as a chiasm but as a cruciform structure, with this great vertical providing the definite line, the straight-downward line, that refocuses the edge-lured arguments and holds them together as they spread out into past (9.6–29) and future (11.1–32). All else east or west of Jesus: the arrow that says ‘You are here’.

(All this is hugely annoying, no doubt, both for the modern universalist and the postmodern particularist; but, as Mr Bingley said to his sister Caroline when she suggested that it might be more rational to have conversation rather than dancing at a ball, it would indeed be much more rational, but it would not be near so much like a ball.)

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