What Wright Gets Wrong image

What Wright Gets Wrong

One of the areas of Tom Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God which is receiving the most criticism, at least from other New Testament scholars, is his handling of Romans 2 and the charge of supercessionism. Tom's argument, in brief, is that it is important to distinguish between three types of supercessionism - hard supercessionism (the church has replaced Israel, as in the letter of Barnabas), sweeping supercessionism (God is doing something completely new, as in New Testament scholars like Kaesemann, Martyn, Campbell and others), and Jewish supercessionism (we are the true Israel, as in Qumran) - and that Paul's view was a version of the latter. As such, we would be better to talk about fulfilment than replacement, as in fact we would with reference to John the Baptist, and to Jesus himself.

Well, the pushback is on. Here’s Larry Hurtado:

But, to consider the Pauline data, I don’t see any evidence that he saw Israel as having failed in the way that Wright alleges, that Israel failed in bringing redemption to the world, that Israel’s problem was keeping God for herself. In fact, the only references in Paul to a failure on the part of ethnic Israel that I know of are references to a refusal to recognize Jesus as Messiah and Lord, a failure to embrace the gospel ... That is, ironically, in Paul’s view it was the appearance of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel that produced any failure on the part of Israel. The failure was specifically to refuse to acknowledge Jesus as God’s new eschatological revelation, and in this way their “zeal for God” is “not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). So, I don’t see anything in Paul that supports Wright’s grand narrative of the national failure of Israel that Wright posits. And that means that I see no basis in Paul for Wright’s notion that Jesus assumed the role and responsibility of Israel.

And this is Ben Witherington (emphasis added):

This can be seen to be problematic in two regards— ‘being a light to the nations’ is not the same thing as being the saviors of the world. Salvation comes through the Jews to the world through the person of their messiah, but not from the Jews. Abraham, Moses, David Israel is not the savior, only the Messiah is. And here is where the ecclesiological reading goes especially wrong. Soteriology comes to fruition through Christology not ecclesiology, to put it somewhat quaintly. And equally to the point rescuing God’s people from bondage in Israel is hardly the same thing as the sort of salvation various NT writers are talking. Indeed, the OT doesn’t talk about salvation in a Christian sense– it talks about help, healing, rescue, not conversion based on a deep theology of human fallenness and the bondage to sin. Are there passages that foreshadow what the NT will say about the new birth, the new heart, yes— but they are by way of promise, not provision, foreshadowings not foretastes ... [And] this is not just because Christ is doing the job Israel failed to do. It is because in fact Christ was asked to do something Israel was NEVER asked to do– namely be an atonement for the sins of the world.

I think that’s a fair challenge, but I’d be interested in what you think: does Paul say anywhere that Israel had failed in its task to bring redemption to the world?

← Prev article
Next article →
← Prev Part in Series
Next Part in Series→