Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Apostle Paul (Part 1)

I am reading through the 1658 page magnus opus by Anglican scholar Tom (aka N.T.) Wright: "Paul and the Faithfulness of God." For any intrepid reader, if you set a modest pace of 10 pages a day, you will be richly rewarded. Here, in sequential blog posts - in pace with others - I will seek to progress through it with some summary observations.

Tom Wright begins with an overview of the letter to Philemon. Paul lives in a world intersected by Roman rule, Hellenistic culture and Jewish theology, and thus has much to negotiate constantly. Onesimus, as a runaway slave, is liable to the death penalty, that which his master Philemon can require. But Onesimus becomes a Christian in the process, and this changes everything. Paul uses his authority, in Christ, with Philemon, to cut far deeper than the rule of human law, but at the same time without becoming lawless. Namely, the fellowship (koinonia) shared between Christians is so profound and transformative that Paul can appeal to it and Philemon understands.

Paul is cutting through false social and political strata, and as he does elsewhere, in saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. He does not negate true complementarities in human nature and culture, but rather lays the foundation for the abolition of tribal and racial divides, slavery and sexism. The Roman Empire implodes, and within its remnants is the Christian Church with a radically different understanding of political power and only source of stability.


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