Israel’s Calling?

(Posted by Paige)

A friend and I have started a lively conversation about N. T. Wright’s writings, and of course part of the landscape we’ll be galloping through will be Wright’s understanding of Israel’s calling or mission to “bless the nations.” Wright reads Gen. 12:3b (“and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”) as the commission that Israel failed to achieve, leaving it up to Jesus (as a sort of “Plan B” [meaning simply "the next step"]) to fulfill the calling of the obedient son. (Of course, Jesus fulfilled this largely by his death; it is unclear how Israel ought to have fulfilled its calling to save the world in the first place.)

What do you make of Wright’s reading of the “mission” of Israel? (I have some ideas, but maybe yours are better.) Here are a few representative passages from Justification (IVP, 2009):

“…the unfaithfulness of the Israelites is not their lack of belief. The point is that God has promised to bless the world through Israel, and Israel has been faithless to that commission.”(67)

“God has made a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite.” (68)

“…the task of the Messiah, bringing to its appointed goal the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world, was to offer to God the ‘obedience’ which Israel should have offered but did not.” (104) [Wright immediately goes on to talk about Jesus’ obedience as “unto death.”]

“Israel had let the side down, had let God down, had not offered the ‘obedience’ which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed. Israel, in short, had been faithless to God’s commission…What is needed…is a faithful Israelite, through whom the single plan can proceed after all.” (105)

“The problem with the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world was that Israel had failed to deliver…Israel had failed to deliver on the divine vocation…Instead of the nations looking at Israel, listening to God’s word and learning his wisdom, they have looked at Israel and said, ‘We don’t want a god like theirs.’” (196)

Thoughts?

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67 Comments

  1. Joel S said,

    March 16, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I’ve just recently digested a lot of Wright (see <a href="http://joelws.com/2011/02/seeking-balance-the-reformed-tradition-n-t-wright-and-false-dichotomies/"here), and this is one of the big things that I repeatedly noticed. He puts so much emphasis on Israel’s calling to be God’s solution for the world, but honestly, I don’t see such an emphasis in Scripture.

    Indeed, in Galatians 3, it seems pretty clear that from the beginning, God’s plan to bless the nations was through Christ, through not many seeds, but One, that is, Christ, and that the nations would only be blessed with Abraham through him. So Jesus didn’t come because Israel failed in her mission. Israel’s mission all along was to lead the way to Jesus.

  2. rcjr said,

    March 16, 2011 at 9:44 am

    It need not be either/or. That it was God’s call to Adam to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and that he failed doesn’t mean that Jesus, the Second Adam, who succeeds where Adam failed is “plan b” in some sort of open theology sort of way. It simply means that God’s sovereign plan was to call x to do y, that x would fail, and to have z succeed where x failed. And if my allusion to the dominion mandate is too “transformationalist” for some, the same principle applies in terms of the covenant of works. Adam was called to obey. He failed. The Second Adam succeeded. An by faith that success becomes ours, through the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Just like God planned it from the beginning.

  3. David Grissen said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I like N.T. Wright because he stands as a more conservative theologian in the Anglican stream. His view here seems like a typical ammillenial view = that through Christ’s work the church has displaced Israel in God’s plans. I’ve shifted my viewpoint from this to a more premmilleniall understanding of eschatology which doesn’t take Israel out of the picture of the end times. Hard to disregard the fact that a small nation of 7 million people can exist among 1 billion enemies who would wipe them off the face of the global map tomorrow if they could — God’s hand holding them back?

  4. paigebritton said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:48 am

    RC Jr. –
    Right, Jesus was not the “Plan B Adam.” God planned the Second Adam since before the foundation of the world. But is NTW’s paralleling of Christ with Israel fair, in the sense that Israel’s mission was what he says it was, and Jesus fulfilled it?
    pb

  5. paigebritton said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Hey, Joel, I like your thinking, but your link didn’t exactly work. Could you try that again?

  6. Joel S said,

    March 16, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Sorry about that, here’s the link: http://joelws.com/2011/02/seeking-balance-the-reformed-tradition-n-t-wright-and-false-dichotomies/ The whole paper is not about this issue, but I do discuss it in there. Gospel Clarity by Barcley and Duncan spends some time addressing it as well.

  7. March 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Paige,

    He was asked this question at ETS last fall, and he said that the answer is found in his exegesis of Rom. 9-11. I have his Romans Commentary but I have not read that far into it.

  8. March 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I also was surprised at all Wright’s talk about Israel’s calling in his book on justification. But then again, couldn’t our Plan A/Plan B charge be issued back to us since we say that Adam was given a task to perform, he didn’t perform it, and so Jesus did in his stead? It seems to me that if Wright could give the same answers to his dilemma as we can to ours, then our charge against Wright doesn’t really stick.

  9. rcjr said,

    March 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Paige,
    I don’t know what he exactly he said Israel’s charge was. I’m pretty confident, though I have never read him, he wouldn’t affirm that Israel was called to atone for the sins of the elect. They were, however, to be a nation of priests. I would suggest that this “blessing” could be understood as making known the glory of the kingdom of God to all the world. Israel did fail at that and Jesus is succeeding.

  10. Joel S said,

    March 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    JJS,

    The charge could be given back to us, but only if it can be shown that Israel had a charge just as Adam did. I do not think he makes his case well that Israel had the charge that Jesus fulfills for us. At the very least, he argues that this is Paul’s central theme, while I don’t quite see that. Israel was never to atone for sins, but Jesus does. So while sure, Jesus is the faithful Israelite, he seems to overstate both Israel’s calling and the importance of that motif in Paul.

  11. March 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    That’s the same impression I came away with, Joel. But again, I haven’t read the ch. 9-11 section of his Romans commentary (which is where he says he makes his case).

  12. paigebritton said,

    March 16, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    JJS-
    Adam’s calling is lots clearer in Scripture than Israel’s calling, and Christ is most clearly established as the 2nd Adam in Paul’s writing, especially Rom. 5. So no, I don’t think there’s a possible tu quoque case there.

    What I’m mainly wondering is along these lines:

    Does Gen. 12:3b describe a PROMISE, or a COMMAND? (NTW reads it as a command, though he uses words like “commission” and “calling.”)

    If it’s a COMMAND, how was Israel supposed to carry it out? (The quotes in the post above are about the clearest things he says on this — looks like it’s a “living in harmony” sort of deal.)

    If Israel failed their commission, and Jesus picked up the ball and fulfilled it, why did Jesus have to die??

    RC Jr. is right — NTW would never go so far as to say that Israel had to atone for the elect. That’s ridiculous on the face of it. But I’m afraid it’s the logical conclusion, if taking care of the world’s sin was ALWAYS built into God’s mission for Israel, and if we’re to understand that Jesus has done what Israel was supposed to have done.

    Of course, if Gen. 12:3b describes a PROMISE rather than a command, nobody has to do theological gymnastics to show that Jesus fulfilled the promise.

  13. March 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I think this is one of the reasons why people have accused Wright of minimizing the importance of the cross in his earlier work–what need is there of a sacrifical death if the whole purpose of God’s plan is to reconcile estranged humans?

    I think he does a better job of integrating Old and New Perspectives in his book on justfication. He makes it clear there that the work of Christ was both to undo the effects of human division that began in Gen. 11, as well as to undo the effects of the division of man and God that took place in Gen. 3.

    Paul is pretty clear that the “mystery of the gospel” has a lot to do with healing Jew/Gentile relations, but we mustn’t forget that Eph. 2:11ff follows right on the heels of Eph. 2:1-10!

  14. stuart said,

    March 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    It appears Wright has taken a Scriptural idea (Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel) and has turned it on its head (Israel’s failed mission had to be fulfilled in Jesus). Instead of reading the OT accounts of Israel as pointing to and being fulfilled in Christ, Wright seems to read Jesus’ mission back into the OT descriptions of Israel.

  15. March 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I hate to harp on the whole tu quoque thing, but we are accused of doing that with Adam. Some say that our covenant theology doesn’t just make Christ a second Adam, but it makes Adam a first Christ.

    I don’t believe the charge, but I just think we should be careful not to accuse someone of doing what we ourselves do.

  16. March 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    All that “Plan B” nonsense sounds like maybe he’s doing an update on dispensationalism (or, perhaps, trying to rehabilitate it on the academic level). Long ago, I heard an ancient recording of Lewis Sperry Chafer, from a classroom lecture in the 1940s, in which he told his students that God “was surprised” when Israel failed to recognize Jesus as her Messiah, and that God had to turn to “Plan B” in order to effect salvation.

    It was depressing to me that none of the students dared to raise a hand to ask Chafer how an omnisicient God can be “taken by surprise.”

  17. March 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Yes, but Wright would be the first to say that God knew all along that Israel would fail in their (supposed) commission, just like we would say that God foreordained Adam’s fall in order to make more glory redound to his Name.

    To attribute to Wright a Plan A/Plan B theology is just silly and lazy.

  18. David C said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Central to the discussion is the interplay of the personal and national references in Isaiah’s ‘Servant Songs’. Here the both/and model suggested by RC Jr (as opposed to the ‘either/or’) finds a firm anchor. To the degree that NTW employs these passages – and he does so especially with reference to Christ and his People as ‘Light of the World’ – then his suggested approach appears helpful and informative. This is not a ‘plan B synthesis’ but a redemptive-historical reading of Scripture’s unfolding revelation that certainly does make much of Israel – and does not cease to do so in the New Testament, though with the priestly people now including the Gentiles, and all through Christ himself, the seed of Abraham. I disagree strongly with NTW at several points, but this is not one that seems amiss.

  19. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 5:42 am

    To attribute to Wright a Plan A/Plan B theology is just silly and lazy.

    I think you are right about Wright in this, and I was tongue-in-cheeking it a bit with the “Plan B” reference above — don’t take it as deeply as dispensationalism, or as meaning that I think NTW thinks God was surprised. (I personally think his writing is careless in this area, though, and does not make enough fuss about God knowing all things ahead of time. Just an opinion.)

    And yet — and yet —

    Jesus is presented in his biblical theology as doing what Israel could not do (in this sense, “Plan B”).

    What I want to know is, WHAT WAS ISRAEL SUPPOSED TO HAVE DONE??

    He sets up a big-picture scheme based on “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” that involves Israel SUPPOSED TO DO SOMETHING to save the world. Is this a fair reading of God’s words here? WAS Israel given a “mission” or “calling” to do so IN ANY WAY, in these words?

    Or was Israel simply going to be the cradle for the Messiah?

    I want to pin down what is PROMISE, and what is COMMAND.

    Thoughts?

  20. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Joel —

    I really liked your paper!! Please write me a book.

    I appreciated that you noticed how NTW begins his biblical theology with Abraham (and in Justification, sometimes it’s also Babel) rather than Adam (who just makes a couple cameos).

    Have you gotten into either of the Variegated Nomism volumes?

    (Funny — I had been listening to the Wheaton lectures but never scrolled down the screen to notice the speakers on the second day. Can’t wait to hear Vanhoozer!)

  21. stuart said,

    March 17, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Jason,

    I hate to harp on the whole tu quoque thing, but we are accused of doing that with Adam. Some say that our covenant theology doesn’t just make Christ a second Adam, but it makes Adam a first Christ.

    I don’t believe the charge, but I just think we should be careful not to accuse someone of doing what we ourselves do.

    That’s a fair warning, and I appreciate it. Yet I’m not certain we (those of us who hold to a Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace distinction) are doing the exact same thing it appears Wright is doing (and I say “appears” because I’ve not read enough of Wright’s works to give any certain, dogmatic declaration).

    First, while there is a connection between Israel and Christ in Scripture (e.g., the way Hosea 11:1 is used in Matthew 2:15), I’m not sure the case is as clear for the kind of “recapitulation” theme (for lack of a better term) Wright seems to be arguing. The case for the kind of relationship between Adam and Christ that we Reformed folks argue seems to me to have better grounding. So yes, we may be accused of reading too much of Christ back into Adam, but if we’re guilty of that then it would seem so is Paul.

    Second, Paige has asked the right questions, I think. Was Israel given a command or a promise? If a command (or commission) was given, what was Israel supposed to do? This is exactly where I think Wright may have taken a good thing (Israel/Christ connection) and gone a few steps too far (Israel and Christ had in some sense the same “mission”).

    My comment above (which was probably not articulated as well as it should have been) was given in that sense.

  22. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Well said, Stuart! Thanks.

    Maybe one of the reasons this “calling” idea is not immediately a red flag for many readers is precisely because there is a sense in Scripture that Jesus is the fulfilled Israel. But as you say, NTW seems to have made more of Israel’s role than is made in the OT (or Paul), and the point of departure seems to be what he does with the promise given to Abraham.

  23. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 9:51 am

    To press the idea a little further, here’s a quote that Joel S. included in his good paper on Wright’s false dichotomies:

    “Israel, in short, was never intended to be the ‘physician’ who brought the cure to the fundamental problem of humanity—alienation from God. This is the problem that Wright continually glosses over, preferring instead to present evil and chaos in the world as the central issue. But what he sees as the main problem is simply the outworking of a more significant one. In one sense he is correct that Jesus came as the true Israelite, the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of his people, the one who was victorious ‘in the wilderness’ (and everywhere else!) where Israel failed. But in another sense, to undo the principal effects of Adam’s sin, Christ was
    also the second Adam who perfectly obeyed where the first Adam failed.” Ligon Duncan & William Barcley, Gospel Clarity, 129.

  24. rcjr said,

    March 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Don’t know if I’m pointing out the elephant in the room, but this keeps creeping into a r2k versus transformationalist discussion. Are we saved for the sake of the kingdom, or is the kingdom just a place for the saved people? It is likely that my r2k friends will underestimate the scope of redemption in favor of a soul-saving emphasis, whereas our transformationalist friends will underestimate the needfulness and importance of our justification in favor of kingdom building.

  25. mary kathryn said,

    March 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    It seems to me that God’s command to Israel repeatedly was to keep themselves separate from the other nations. He also told them they would bless the nations, but I get no impression from the OT that they had some active mission to perform, which would involve their contact with the nations, that they refused to obey. Usually, their contact with the nations was an act of disobedience, not obedience. Any foreigners who wished to become Israelites and come under the covenant, were accepted.

  26. March 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Paige,

    What I want to know is, WHAT WAS ISRAEL SUPPOSED TO HAVE DONE??

    He sets up a big-picture scheme based on “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” that involves Israel SUPPOSED TO DO SOMETHING to save the world. Is this a fair reading of God’s words here? WAS Israel given a “mission” or “calling” to do so IN ANY WAY, in these words?

    Or was Israel simply going to be the cradle for the Messiah?

    If you haven’t, you should read his Romans commentary, which is where he unpacks a lot of this (I have only read through ch. 4 or 5, and haven’t touched it in a while). I remember him going to ch. 2 and talking about how that Israel’s boasting in being a teacher of others and a guide to the blind was all in perfect accord with the commission that God gave them. The reason for Paul’s rebuke wasn’t that they assumed these things of themselves, but because they had become arrogant and thus failed in fulfilling them.

    Personally, I have appealed to Israel’s failure in the same terms as I have to Adam’s failure loads of times when preaching, but I always think of it as personal: Israel, like Adam, was given a land and a law to keep while in it, thus securing an inheritance. Both failed, but Jesus is the second Adam and faithful Israelite, &c. &c.

    Plus, maybe for Wright there’s the whole stone-skipping-on-a-lake vibe going on. Yes, the ULTIMATE fulfillment of the promise that Abraham was to bless all the earth was fulfilled in Christ, but that doesn’t rule out other more immediate fulfillments during the Mosaic era (such as the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon and hearing his wisdom).

    I mean, we interpret most prophecies that way: we see an immediate, earthly, provisional fulfillment followed by a true and eternal one.

  27. stuart said,

    March 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    RCJR,

    Don’t know if I’m pointing out the elephant in the room, but this keeps creeping into a r2k versus transformationalist discussion.

    How did that elephant get in here?!?

    Oh, I know . . . you just pulled him in with your comment. ;-)

  28. stuart said,

    March 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Jason,

    Plus, maybe for Wright there’s the whole stone-skipping-on-a-lake vibe going on. Yes, the ULTIMATE fulfillment of the promise that Abraham was to bless all the earth was fulfilled in Christ, but that doesn’t rule out other more immediate fulfillments during the Mosaic era (such as the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon and hearing his wisdom).

    I think you’re right, and this is something I appreciate about Wright. Too often evangelicals and confessionalists alike approach OT prophecy like the ancient Greeks may have approached the Oracle of Delphi . . . it’s all sort of cryptic until the fulfillment comes. So we see Isaiah speaking to Ahaz about a specific situation in his day, and yet somehow we read it as skipping completely over Ahaz and his situation to Jesus. Wright seems to make more of a “type and fulfillment” approach than a “cryptic prediction” approach.

    It still seems to me, however, that in his approach (which is generally fine in many ways) he takes a few steps off the beaten path of Scripture itself in order to show how Scripture actually says what he says it says.

    Having said that, I’ll put Wright’s commentary on Romans on my overly long reading list.

  29. Cris Dickason said,

    March 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    The expounding of this Israel’s Failure/Christ’s Fulfillment (or Success) in the way NT Wright pursues it is probably “classic N.T. Wright”. It is also a classic academic feature: find an interesting and helpful pattern, metaphor, event, and run rough-shod over the whole canvas of canon with said item. In one regard N.T. Wright has done the same thing numerous other Ph.D. candidates and professors have done. A certain PH.D in OT in Canada did his dissertation on the Urim & Thummim, not surprisingly, he would see inferences to the U & T throughout the OT.

    The question is, to what end or use does Wright put this theme, especially if he makes the linchpin of other things, certain conclusions.

    D.A. Carson makes a similar point about Wright’s use of “Exile” and the idea that the exile wasn’t over until Messiah arrived. That has some potentially helpful ideas, but mostly comes off way wrong to me.

    Listen to Carson’s 3 lectures on the NPP available on iTunes U (from RTS). There was a session a few back on Reformed Forum by a guy looking into the Exile, did it end with Ezra-Nehemiah, for a more orthodox take on that possibility.

    Cheers (it is 03.17 at posting time),

    -=Cris=-

  30. todd said,

    March 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I think Mary is correct. As a whole Israel’s relationship to the nations were defined more by judgment and separation than mission, though being an example to certain nations is not completely absent. The idea of world mission and world salvation (along with judgment on Israel’s enemies) was more of an eschatological expectation, an expected inbreaking of God in the future; i.e., the promised coming kingdom, as we see in the prophecies throughout the Psalms.

  31. David DeJong said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    As David C said above the servant songs are the clearest proof that Israel had a calling. There is an age-old debate about whether these songs are collectives, referring to Israel, or only singular (i.e. referring to Messiah). Wright rightly rejects this as a false dilemma. They clearly are referring to Israel’s task to be the light to the nations (e.g. Isa 49:6); however, they are also clearly looking ahead to the True Israelite who will recapitulate Israel’s history (see especially typology in Matthew’s gospel) and fulfill Israel’s commission. That Israel as a nation failed in this calling is clear from Rom 2.

    I’m actually sort of surprised that the notion that Israel had a calling is controversial. This is bound up in the whole concept of a covenant, which contains both promise and responsibility. The question is, why and how was God’s covenant with Abraham supposed to be the solution for the sin of Adam? When we rightly understand covenant, we see that it is the means God uses to restore relationships to Him and each other. God’s plan was always to deal with sin, and his plan involved establishing a covenant with Abraham. When you see how those two things are inseparably connected you have Israel with a calling, a calling to be the sin-bearer, to heap up on itself the sin of the world. Indeed Torah had precisely this purpose of focusing sin on Israel (Rom 4:15, 5:20, Rom 7; Gal 3:19). Jesus, the true Israel, accomplished what Israel could not by his death and resurrection.

  32. Rachel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Paige- good questions. I have read a handful of Wright books and articles. I think that Wright needs for Israel to have failed their commission in order to bring home his point in the NT that Paul was concerned with boundary markers and not with how one is saved. I read somewhere (I can’t remember the cite right now) that Wright backgrounds what Scripture foregrounds and foregrounds what Scripture backgrounds. I think that that is a fair assessment.

  33. stuart said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Wright backgrounds what Scripture foregrounds and foregrounds what Scripture backgrounds.

    I believe that is a quote from Douglass Moo (although I’ve also seen it attributed to several other folks). D.A. Carson quoted Moo on Wright in his lectures on the New Perspective that Cris pointed out in comment 29 above.

    As for the quote itself, I think it’s a spot-on description of Wright’s hermeneutic.

  34. Cris Dickason said,

    March 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Rachel @ 32 -Not to pick on you, but you mentioned the phrase (and I was just mulling it over the other day): The Wright/Dunn quip about a concern for staying in vs getting in, boundary markers, etc. Do you find that an adequate or helpful or satisfying construct? Is that supposed to be really meaningful, and if so, how?

    It strikes me as meaningless, or a sophistic dodge or something. Another way some categorize this is concerns over ecclesiology rather than soteriology. As if under the heading Ecclesiology one can subvert the Gospel, hey the arena is not soteriology, we can say what we like. It’s like claiming that being Semi-Pelagian when talking Ecclesiology doesn’t negate allegedly being Augustinian soteriologically.

    So, PB, if this is too far off the topic, pull it and y’all can perhaps formulate it into a proper topic.

  35. Rachel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Cris- Not a problem. I should have made clear that I don’t agree with NTW in any way. I think you are probably right about it being a dodge.

    From what I’ve read, I think that for NTW the concern about “how people are saved” is not nearly as important as “God’s plan to bless the world (read physical cosmos) through Abraham/Israel/Christ.” I could go more into detail, but I don’t want to hijack the thread. I have a “document of disturbing quotes” that I’ve put together (by topic) from what I’ve read of Wright.

  36. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    JJS –

    I remember him going to ch. 2 and talking about how that Israel’s boasting in being a teacher of others and a guide to the blind was all in perfect accord with the commission that God gave them.

    I’m not sure whether NTW’s Romans commentary was written earlier or later than his Paul and Justification books, but his thinking is reproduced in all of them, so I have read this explanation already several times (and probably the rest of his Romans reasoning, too). So, right, this is what NTW says. All I am asking is, is this really the impression we get from the OT (or from Paul), that Israel has a world-saving calling? (Does Israel in the OT even have an EVANGELISTIC calling?)

    Seems our readers are divided on this! But aren’t the quotes I have listed above stronger statements about Israel’s commission than y’all have ever read elsewhere?

    And what do you do with Gen. 12:3b, guys? Do you read PROMISE or COMMAND here? Paul calls this “the gospel preached in advance” (Gal. 3:8). Don’t we conflate “gospel” with “law” by calling this something Israel was supposed to DO, rather than something that GOD was going to do?

  37. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Cris –
    I think you and Rachel are connecting the dots that I have noticed, too, and that these things are not unrelated to the questions I’ve brought up here. I am thinking, in fact, that by shifting God’s PROMISE to Abraham into the category of COMMAND/COMMISSION, NTW paves the way for the rest of his conclusions. It’s a roots-to-fruit deal, and it seems to undermine even the meaning of the cross of Christ when you get down to it. (Why on earth did Christ die, in this scheme?)

  38. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    He also told them they would bless the nations, but I get no impression from the OT that they had some active mission to perform, which would involve their contact with the nations, that they refused to obey.

    Mary Kathryn (#25) —

    This is my impression, too. We might see some evidence of an evangelical mission in the story of Jonah, and of course there were all those prophets preaching at the surrounding nations. But was this type of prophetic warning a national task? And if Jesus’ obedient death finally did what Israel had been commissioned to do, solving a problem as big as the sin of humanity, where is the parallel between what Israel was supposed to do and what Jesus actually did?

    Good thoughts!

  39. paigebritton said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    David D. –
    God’s plan was always to deal with sin, and his plan involved establishing a covenant with Abraham. When you see how those two things are inseparably connected you have Israel with a calling, a calling to be the sin-bearer, to heap up on itself the sin of the world.

    I agree with your first sentence here, but not your second. God’s plan to deal with sin is described first of all in Gen. 3:15, and concluded in the “seed of Abraham” singular, who is Christ (Gal. 3:16; 4:4-5). Thus the reason for the Abrahamic covenant, for from his family came the Sin-Bearer.

  40. Eric Greene said,

    March 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Christ the Servant emobodied and fulfilled the calling of Israel servant.
    Christ the Man became and fulfilled the calling of the first man.
    Previous failures to bless creation and the nations does not mean Christ was a secondary plan (B-plan).
    Much of this seems to boil down to how one answers a hypothetical question: would Christ had become incarnate even if Adam had not sinned?
    How one answers this seems to be a root issue to the Plan-B or Plan-A question.

  41. Stuart said,

    March 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Paige,

    And what do you do with Gen. 12:3b, guys? Do you read PROMISE or COMMAND here? Paul calls this “the gospel preached in advance” (Gal. 3:8). Don’t we conflate “gospel” with “law” by calling this something Israel was supposed to DO, rather than something that GOD was going to do?

    I find it difficult to see Gen 12:3b proper as a command. It is a promise.

    Yet what if we really tried to see Gen 12:3 in a similar light as Wright? The best I could do with trying to take on a Wright-like scheme is to understand the statement about blessings flowing to the world through Abraham as a descriptive kind of promise that marks out the destiny of Israel. Perhaps under this scheme (“your destiny is to be a blessing to the nations”) the promise could be seen as a commission of sorts (in the “this is your destiny so live up to it” sense). If we grant such a view is going on in Scripture, we wouldn’t have to call Gen 12:3 a command . . . we’d call it a commission. Is making a distinction between a command and a commission a distinction without a difference? To be fair to Wright, there is a sense in which I think we can make such a distinction work.

    So following this trajectory, Israel’s destiny given by God is to be a blessing to the nations. This commission isn’t a command per se, but a kind of authorization or grant given to Israel by God. Yet Israel can’t live up to this destiny because of sin. Sin hinders them from fulfilling their destiny. Thus Christ comes and fulfills the destiny of Israel because as the sinless one, he is able to do what Israel could not do.

    This may sound feasible in one sense, but the question would still need to be answered “how was Israel to be a blessing to the nations?’

    It seems clear that Paul’s treatment of Gen 12:3 in Gal 3:8 is as promise that is fulfilled in Christ because he brings salvation to the nations. Israel as a nation could never have brought salvation to the nations.

    Thus it seems to me that to make this scheme work we’d have to posit one type of blessing flowing from Israel and another type of blessing flowing from Jesus.

  42. Rachel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Paige- I think you are asking the right questions here. FWIW, NTW talks about why he thinks Jesus had to die in The Meaning of Jesus. (pg, 98ff ebook version)

    “It [the messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures] was not, first and foremost, a way of saying that the moral failures of individuals had been atoned for in some abstract theological transaction. That would come, and quickly; we find it already in Paul’s mature thought. But in the beginning it was a claim about what Israel’s God had done, in fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies, to bring Israel’s long night of exile to its conclusion, to deal with the “sins” that had kept Israel enslaved to the pagan powers of the world, and to bring about the real “return from exile,” the dawn of the new day, for which Israel had longed.”

    “Nor was it a new theory about how “atonement” functioned, supplanting previous Jewish beliefs on the subject. It was the early Christian deduction, from Jesus’ resurrection, that his death had been after all effective, as the hinge upon which the door to God’s new world had swung open. To say that the messiah had died for sins in fulfillment of the scriptures was to make a claim, not so much about an abstract atonement theology into which individuals could tap to salve their guilty consciences, as about where Israel and the world were within God’s eschatological timetable. The sins that had caused Israel’s exile had now been dealt with, and the time of forgiveness had arrived.”

    pg.99
    “Paul knew himself to have been following an agenda, a way of being Israel, that led inexorably to the wrath of Rome, in other words, to crucifixion. He saw in Jesus’ death God’s judgment on that entire way of being, a judgment borne by the messiah, Israel’s representative, on his behalf.”

  43. paigebritton said,

    March 18, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Stuart –
    Thus it seems to me that to make this scheme work we’d have to posit one type of blessing flowing from Israel and another type of blessing flowing from Jesus.

    I appreciate your fair-mindedness, in trying to read NTW in the best light possible! But I don’t know that it is possible to frame any sort of “destiny” of Israel that they could “live up to” that would result in salvific blessings for “all the families of the world.” It certainly isn’t clear from the OT (or Paul) that this was God’s intention. (Do we even read a “Go into all the world” sort of evangelistic mission in the OT?) And NTW is clear that he is imagining such a commission, nothing less than a whole-world plan to be carried out by Israel (see the quotes above again). One would think such a commission would be spelled out very clearly!

    I am afraid that even if we just move PROMISE into the category of COMMISSION (not to say strict “command”), we still end up removing the priority of God’s monergistic actions and move into the realm of synergism. This would be fine with Bishop Wright: but is it truly fine with Paul? He seems to work in either/or categories when it comes to faith/works, promise/command, grace/wages, gospel/law. Can you dilute “promise” and still have a promise?

    Also, by keeping the focus on Israel being a “light to the nations”, etc. (somehow!), NTW effectively removes the spotlight in salvation history from the need for atonement. His emphasis is on ecclesiology, making a family of God out of Jews & Gentiles, not on soteriology, saving the human race from sin. Here is where I see implications of this “Israel’s commission” idea for re-interpreting the cross of Christ in a detrimental way.

  44. paigebritton said,

    March 18, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Rachel —
    Thanks for the quote collection!
    You’ve zeroed in on NTW’s fondness for the theme of the Messiah’s death somehow correcting both Israel’s exile and the nation’s misunderstanding about who belongs to the family of God. Slightly different from salvation of humans-in-general from sin — though we note that he uses the same language!

  45. Stuart said,

    March 18, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Paige,

    I may not have been clear in what I was trying to do in my last comment above. My point was to give my attempt at a “best light possible” reading, but then show that even this charitable reading raises issues that are not easily answered.

    But I don’t know that it is possible to frame any sort of “destiny” of Israel that they could “live up to” that would result in salvific blessings for “all the families of the world.”

    Right. And that was actually part of the point of my comment above. If Israel had a “commission” to be a blessing to the nations, then what was the nature of that blessing? It certainly could not have been salvific (at least not in the sense of securing salvation for anyone). But that was the natuer of Christ’s “commission” (to bless the nations with salvation), right? So it would seem for Wright’s scheme to work we would have two distinct commissions for blessing the nations . . . Christ was “commissioned” to bring salvation, Israel was commissioned to ??? . . . and this where I’m stumped as to what the blessing would actually be in actual terms.

    Do we even read a “Go into all the world” sort of evangelistic mission in the OT?

    No, not exactly. I would say we have the foundation for such an evangelistic mission in the OT. Such a foundation laid in the OT gives a reasonable context for the Great Commission so that Matthew 28:19-20 does not seem like a command that comes out of thin air. But that doesn’t seem to be what Wright is arguing.

    NTW is clear that he is imagining such a commission, nothing less than a whole-world plan to be carried out by Israel (see the quotes above again). One would think such a commission would be spelled out very clearly!

    Yes. In a sense, Wright is jumping the gun when it comes to seeing a great-commission-like plan given to Israel as a nation. I think one could posit such a commission only by reading the NT back into the OT in a way that is not warranted. The foundation for the commission is there. Granted. But not the full blown commission in its fullness. This is how, like I said earlier, Wright takes a good thing and takes it a few steps too far.

    I am afraid that even if we just move PROMISE into the category of COMMISSION (not to say strict “command”), we still end up removing the priority of God’s monergistic actions and move into the realm of synergism. This would be fine with Bishop Wright: but is it truly fine with Paul? He seems to work in either/or categories when it comes to faith/works, promise/command, grace/wages, gospel/law. Can you dilute “promise” and still have a promise?

    You may be right about this. Yet I think it’s fair to ask, “what is the nature of and intent of the promise?” Could a promise be given in such a way that God will make sure it comes about, but part of the way it comes about is by his people realizing the promise is their destiny? I’m not saying that is going on in the promise given in Gen 12 per se, but I’m asking about the nature and intention of promises in the Scripture in general. Perhaps we would want to distinguish the promise from the implications of the promise, and I’m fine with making those types of distinctions (being Presbyterian and all). I’m simply raising the question of how a promise might work itself out by God’s providential care when it deals with “you will be” type language in contrast with a strict “I will do for you” language (and let me quickly add that I realize the “you will be” promise has an implicit “I will do for you” foundation when it comes to God’s promises).

    Also, by keeping the focus on Israel being a “light to the nations”, etc. (somehow!), NTW effectively removes the spotlight in salvation history from the need for atonement. His emphasis is on ecclesiology, making a family of God out of Jews & Gentiles, not on soteriology, saving the human race from sin. Here is where I see implications of this “Israel’s commission” idea for re-interpreting the cross of Christ in a detrimental way.

    I agree, and this is where Moo’s quote Rachel mentioned above hits its mark.

  46. paigebritton said,

    March 18, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Helpful thoughts, Stuart, thanks!!

  47. David DeJong said,

    March 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Paige, 39: I agree with your first sentence here, but not your second. God’s plan to deal with sin is described first of all in Gen. 3:15, and concluded in the “seed of Abraham” singular, who is Christ (Gal. 3:16; 4:4-5). Thus the reason for the Abrahamic covenant, for from his family came the Sin-Bearer.

    The problem is, why was a COVENANT required in order to bring the Sin-Bearer? How are those two concepts integrally related? What is God’s logic? I think this is the question Wright is pursuing and attempting to answer. I don’t think he would deny that the ultimate reason for Israel and the OT is Christ. But then you still need to look back and say: well why did God’s plan take that particular shape and what does that teach us about the nature of sin and the redemptive work that God is doing?

  48. paigebritton said,

    March 19, 2011 at 6:56 am

    The problem is, why was a COVENANT required in order to bring the Sin-Bearer?

    Well, aren’t there different “degrees” (or “shapes”) of covenant, at least in the biblical story? I don’t know a technically precise term, but I note some differences:

    Covenant of Works: “you must do; if so, I will do”

    Covenant of Grace: “I will do”

    Noachic Covenant: “I will do, you must do”

    Abrahamic Covenant: “I will do,” signified by the unilateral “covenant cutting” ceremony in which God alone passes through the split carcasses; Abraham is not responsible to do anything to make the promises happen, although he is given tasks to do in response to what he has believed (circumcision follows faith).

    Mosaic Covenant: “You must do,” perhaps “because I have done”; and “if so, I will do”

    New Covenant: “I will do”

    Just saying something is a “covenant,” then, does not immediately entail (biblically speaking) that the parties in the covenant are equally — or even both! — implicated in the keeping of it. Perhaps a better sum of biblical covenants involving God & man — the something that all these types have in common — is relationship to the King rather than mutual obligation.

    So I would respond to you that the “covenantal” nature of the Abrahamic Covenant is significant because it is a picture of God’s relationship with a particular man and his family, NOT because Abraham and his family are obligated to carry out the covenant promises (e.g., “bless all the families of the earth”).

  49. David DeJong said,

    March 19, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Every covenant has both divine promises and human responsibilities. But the point Wright is driving at is different (though not entirely unrelated). The fact that God’s solution is a covenant reveals the nature of the problem: the alienating effects of sin. Sin drives us away from God and each other (as seen clearly in Gen 3, Gen 11). To counteract sin God establishes a family with whom he will have communion. In this family the solution to sin will come. That is why they were called to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6): they were to be the nation that pointed all the earth to the one true God (this is a theme in Deut as well). Israel’s purpose was always universal in scope.

  50. Rachel said,

    March 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I had another thought to contribute to the discussion here. In Justification, NTW talks about the Galatians 3:16 passage. He translates it differently from what I’ve traditionally heard. Here’s a quote from pg. 125:

    “The key to the next two sections is the notion of a single seed promised to Abraham. “Seed” (sperma in Greek) can regularly mean “family,” and the point is that God promised Abraham one family, not two- but the Torah, left to itself, would divide that family into at least two, certainly into Jews and Gentiles and perhaps, on the same principle, into many families corresponding to many nations. This is where, as we saw earlier, Paul explicitly introduces the word “covenant,” making it clear in Galatians 3;17 that he is indeed thinking of God’s covenant promise to Abraham (in other words, that the usage of diatheke in Galatians 3:15 was not merely a piece of wordplay by way of illustration), and of the historical sequence Abraham – Torah- Messiah/faith. The single “seed” is the Messiah (Galatians 3:16): not, again, that Paul is playing word games, imagining that the singular noun “seed” must refer to a single individual (he knows perfectly well that that is not so, as Galatians 3:29 demonstrates), but that the Messiah is himself the one in whom God’s true people are summed up.”

  51. paigebritton said,

    March 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Israel’s purpose was always universal in scope.

    Certainly God’s purpose was always universal in scope. I don’t see clearly in Scripture that Israel as a nation had a world-saving mission, however, other than to be the cradle for the (singular) Messiah.

  52. David DeJong said,

    March 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks Rachel. Wright is excellent on Gal 3. Particularly that last sentence is one that needs to be emphasized and re-emphasized: you can’t really understand the NT without seeing Jesus as the True Israel. Which makes the dichotomy, Paige, that you keep raising between Israel’s mission and Jesus’ mission rather perplexing and unnecessary. You’re also not interacting with the best evidence being brought forward, namely, the Servant Songs and Rom 2.

  53. Richard Tallach said,

    March 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Israel had some success in bringing the natuions to know God by Gentiles becoming Jews and Gentiles also becoming God-fearers but not Jews.

    In the New Covenant the nations are being incorporated into “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16)without the need for them to become Jews. The Israel of God is God’s international nation.

    The Jews have largely been cut out of the Covenant of Grace in God’s judgement, but still have a role in God’s redemptive historical plan, when in the future a great re-ingrafting of the Jews will be of great benefit to the work of the Gospel in this world and to the glory of God.

    The Jews as a people will yet fulfill there commission in Christ. In some ways the visible New Covenant Church (the visible Israel of God) has failed and apostasised throughout church history as much as the Jews did.

  54. Richard Tallach said,

    March 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    The typology of Christ being Israel is complicated, because the New Covenant Church fulfils Israel also, yet Christ is the Head and Representative of His Church, and of the Jews, since He was both a Jew and a Christian, and came from these communities to represent their true members.

    Also in Old Covenant Israel certain individuals point to Christ more than Israel in general, e.g. Moses, the kings, prophets, priests, the High Priest.

    You can only push the typology of Christ being Israel so far without confusion. In particular He is not just Israel simpliciter, but the King, Great High Priest, Prophet greater than Moses, the Surety and Head of the Old and New Covenants.

    He was both an Israelite – being circumcised – and a Christian – being baptised. He was the ideal Man, Israelite and Christian to bring us to God.

    He was Israel idealised realised. Jeshurn – the Upright One.

    The Israel of God in the New Testament period continues as the expanded concept of all those Jews and Gentiles that accept Jesus as King of Israel.

    The concept of the Land of Israel has also expanded to include the whole Earth. Christ is our Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon and is in the process of conquering the Earth by the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – in a Holy War that fulfils the conquering of the Land of Israel from Joshua to Solomon.

  55. Rachel said,

    March 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I just wanted to point out that I think Wright is terrible on Galatians 3. To translate, “seed” as family there is not a traditional reading at all.

  56. paigebritton said,

    March 21, 2011 at 6:49 am

    David D:

    Thanks for the interaction.

    I don’t deny that Jesus fulfills Israel’s role, as far as Israel had a role in biblical history — but I do not believe that Israel’s role is what NTW says it was, to actively pursue a calling to be the worldwide solution to sin.

    Re. the Servant Songs, I recognize the interplay between “Israel” as a nation and “the Servant” as an individual, but it is clear from Is. 49 and 52-53 (at least) that there is a sharp distinction between them re. “calling”:

    “And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him…”(49:5)

    We all like sheep have gone astray…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (53:6)

    Re. Rom. 2, you are likely referring to v.17-20 & 24, which NTW likes to quote to support his thesis that Israel really did have a calling to actively win the nations:

    Now if you call yourself a Jew, and take pride in the law, and boast in God, and know his will and approve those things that are best, being instructed by the law, and being convinced that you are a guide to the blind, a light for those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law…For “the name of God is being blasphemed among the nations because of you,” even as it is written.

    This is Paul’s critique of Jewish presumption, and yes, it does include an allusion to the Jewish role vis-a-vis the (Gentile) nations walking in darkness. Doug Moo even writes,

    “The Jews, however far short of their responsibility to enlighten the Gentile world they may have fallen, continued to boast in these mandates as a means of highlighting their importance and the value of their law in the eyes of a skeptical and sometimes hostile Gentile world.” (NICNT Commentary on Romans, p.162)

    But is it fair to heighten this allusion as far as NTW has done, making Israel’s calling to (somehow) actively be the worldwide solution to sin? And as I’ve asked before, is it even clear that Israel is called in the OT to an evangelistic role among the nations? I believe Moo would call this “foregrounding the background,” because such a calling is otherwise unclear in the OT.

    FWIW,
    pb

  57. paigebritton said,

    March 21, 2011 at 7:23 am

    David D. again:
    Here are two questions for you, since we obviously disagree about this:

    1. Are God’s words in Gen. 12:3b, “and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you,” to be understood as a PROMISE (something God will accomplish) or a COMMISSION (something Israel is supposed to now go and do?)

    2. If Israel has a specific COMMISSION from Gen. 12 onwards, what is the goal of this commission, and where do we find in Scripture instruction about how this is to be accomplished?

  58. paigebritton said,

    March 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Rachel –

    I agree with you that “family” is not the usual way of translating “seed,” but if you think of “seed” as “offspring,” and “offspring” as kin or family, you can see where NTW was going with his own translating choice. Of course it is in keeping with his primary emphasis on ecclesiology, the formation of the one family of God, which is why he chose this word. It doesn’t do justice to the original wordplay (both “seed” and “offspring” maintain the original singular/plural ambiguity), so it’s a stretch as a translation, but I’m thinking it’s fair as one half of the interpretation of “seed.”

    pb

  59. Rachel said,

    March 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Paige- I agree completely. I should have said that while “seed” as “family” is not a mistranslation, it is not the best translation, in my opinion. From my own reading of NTW, it appears to me that he has his “lens” that he views all of Scripture through.

  60. Cris Dickason said,

    March 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Re Richard T’s comment @ 54
    The typology of Christ being Israel is complicated, because the New Covenant Church fulfils Israel also, yet Christ is the Head and Representative of His Church, and of the Jews, since He was both a Jew and a Christian, and came from these communities to represent their true members.

    I think I can appreciate this somewhat, but the historical situation is definitely more linear than this statement. Jesus the Christ did not come from, spring from or have his human origins in the two communities of Judaism & Christianity. The basic situation is fulfillment that results in a certain kind of replacement. The Church of Christ (new covenant church, new covenant people of God) is the new Israel. The Messiah came out of and to Israel – most pointedly a remnant Israel that is encumbered by 1st Century Jewish wrappings (or 2nd Temple Jewish encumbrances to use the hip term). But his own received him not (John 1:12). As revelation unfolds following the death and resurrection of Christ, we find the direction moving outward from Jerusalem (home of the remnant) to the rest of the world. Which hearkens back to the promise to Abraham, that through Abraham all the nations would be blessed. Which in turn reflects Gen 3:15, the promise is made to fallen Adam that God will provide for those made in his image, and no restrictions are pictured regarding family, clan, tribe or nation.

    The Abrahamic Covenant contained and is properly categorized as Promise. Now one fulfillment (component or aspect of fulfillment) of that promise in Gen 12:1-3 (and later elaborations of this to Abraham), a promise that the Lord will bless thru Abraham came about in the blessing of Ishmael, who was not the promised son; yet the Lord honored Abraham’s prayer and made a nation of Ishmael.

    But the primary line of God fulfilling his promise, and not Israel keeping a command, is that through the Abraham-Isaac-Israel line would come the Last Man, the Second Adam, Israel’s Messiah, who is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. His resurrection is a declaration with power that Jesus Christ is Lord and vindicated Son. Consider that the Gospel centers on the death / resurrection / ascension of the Son as the center of the (OT) Scriptures (Luke 24:44-47; Rom 1:1-4; 1 Cor 15:1-4). Realizing that the gospel has this trans-testamental character provides grounds for rich reflection and application. The life, death, resurrection of the Messiah is the heart of the OT and that message calls into question any theological construct that would lessen or under-emphasize this. This is wine that would burst NTW’s wineskin (and mine!).

    -=Cris=-

  61. paigebritton said,

    March 23, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Rachel —
    Cool! “Family” sure is a disconcerting word to find as a translation there — very Wright, though I wouldn’t call it exactly right. :)

  62. paigebritton said,

    March 23, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Cris –
    Well said! Thanks.

  63. Rachel said,

    March 23, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Paige- could you email me? I’d like to share an NTW perspective.

    Thanks! (I assume you can see my email addy)

  64. David DeJong said,

    March 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Paige, 57. Thanks for the interaction.

    1) I would say Gen 12:3 is definitely a promise. But like all God’s promises, it is a promise that contains a calling. :) For Abraham the calling was to separate himself from the nations. “Go to the place I will show you.” This separation paradoxically shows the universal intent of the calling – Abraham is set apart from all to be a blessing to all. As you say, they are to be a cradle for the Messiah.

    2) Israel’s specific commission is to keep Torah. They are to be the nation that embodies what it means to be in a right relationship with YHWH. Because of this their role vis-a-vis the other nations becomes priestly (Exod 19:6); Israel serves a mediatorial role between the true God and the nations. The goal of Israel’s obedience is the response/acknowledgement of God by all peoples (Deut 4:6-8 is illuminating in this respect, as well as many similar statements in Deut). Because of Israel’s disobedience to Torah, they became like the other nations rather than a light to them (Rom 2). They were thus unable to fulfill their role because of sin. Nevertheless God had promised that in the eschatological future Israel would be truly enabled to fulfill this role (see particularly Zech 8:20-23).

    To balance this picture out we also need to recognize that Israel’s destiny was always one of supremacy over the nations. So, they would become a light to the nations also by conquering and ruling over them. The Davidic Messiah was to secure the obedience of the nations. Dan 7, Ps 2, etc. There is admittedly then not much in the OT about Israel (or, those who were “in the Messiah,” i.e. “in Christ”) serving in a sacrificial role with respect to the nations. The dominant mode of understanding the relationship was one in which the nations would stream to Zion in service of the Messianic King. (Because of this particular emphasis, we have to deal with dispensationalism.)

    Nevertheless, Luke insists repeatedly that according to the OT the Christ had to suffer (e.g. Acts 17:3 and many places). Why or how can he say this? This is not only based on cherry-picking specific passages; he doesn’t even cite Isa 53 which would be best. Rather it is based on a new understanding of the significance and purpose of Israel’s history. What is this new understanding, which is “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3)? It is that Israel’s purpose was indeed to be cast away for the sake of the world (Rom 11:15). Paul’s understanding of the course of the gospel among the Gentiles is fundamentally connected to his convictions about the suffering and death of Christ as the means of salvation for the nations. This interpretation of the OT data may be rejected as the arbitrary imposition of an NT perspective on the OT narratives. I agree, it is somewhat anachronistic. But it is not arbitrary. If we truly believe in one canon, we need to adopt the NT writers perspective in reading the OT. If we do this, we will conclude that Israel’s purpose was in fact redemptive, though this is a great mystery that was only disclosed in Jesus Christ.

  65. paigebritton said,

    March 24, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Hi, David D.,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response – here are some thoughts back.

    First, a general observation: I am noticing that while you seem to be promoting the same idea about Israel’s calling that NTW has articulated, you don’t seem to be supporting your argument in the same way that Wright does. Some specifics:

    1. Re. Gen. 12:3, you agree that this is a promise, and that the calling that fulfills (or works toward the fulfillment of) this promise is Abraham separating himself from Ur and going to the promised land (Gen. 12:1). I don’t disagree that Abraham received a call to actively obey God in this; but I don’t see that “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” is the equivalent of Israel having a specific commission to actively bless the world by offering to God “the obedience which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed” (Justification, p.104). Especially since Wright is construing this obedience as somehow parallel to Jesus’ salvific death (same page), the absence of such a direct imperative commission from Gen. 12:3 seems to make this an unlikely source for Israel’s marching orders. So do you agree with Wright about his use of Gen. 12:3 as the source of an imperative for Israel? Or do you agree with me that this is not the place to find it, if such a commission could be found in Scripture?

    2. If Israel was to be a kingdom of priests on behalf of the nations (as per Ex. 19:6) – and I do not yet see that there is much more than a hint in Scripture of a “mediatorial” role for Israel vis-à-vis the other nations – and if Israel was to obey Torah in order to do this, what do we make of the “430 year” gap between Gen. 12:3 and the Law? If Gen. 12:3 describes Israel’s commission, and Israel’s commission depends on its obedience to Torah to be fulfilled, there is rather a wide temporal disconnect between command and possibility of fulfillment. Would you, like NTW, still ground such a Torah-based commission in Gen. 12:3, or would you agree that Gen. 12:3 isn’t the place to find it, if it can be found?

    3. You rightly point out that Israel’s “mission” to other nations was often – not always! – to conquer and destroy them. But things are very complicated here: destroyed nations cannot be converted, and subdued (and surrounding) nations are not to be brought into the family (recall the commands forbidding intermarriage). Strict separateness appears to be the command re. the neighbors. Not only is this biblical evidence problematic re. a mediatorial (or even an example-based) commission for Israel vis-à-vis their immediate neighbors, it doesn’t seem to factor into Wright’s view of Israel’s commission, which is very active and positive (if vague):

    Instead of the nations looking at Israel, listening to God’s word and learning his wisdom, they have looked at Israel and said, ‘We don’t want a god like theirs.’ (196)

    Do you think that NTW has accurately represented the role that Israel was supposed to have, in light of the commands to conquer and subdue? Or would you agree that he seems to be picturing something incompatible with conquering, subduing, and staying separate from the nations? Do you see any evidence that Israel was to “go into all the world,” let alone influence her immediate neighbors?

    My impression is that it is difficult to defend NTW’s claim that, based on an imperative found in Gen. 12:3, Israel had a clear, Torah-based mediatorial or even exemplary role among the nations, given the paucity of biblical evidence for such a mission, given the nature of Gen. 12:3 (a promise, not a command) and its temporal distance from Sinai, and given the commands to conquer, subdue, and stay separate from the nations.

    Thoughts?

  66. David DeJong said,

    March 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Paige: As far as your comment goes, I certainly agree with it. Wright is doing a “global” read of Scripture that probably imports more into Gen 12:3 than can be demonstrated is there. It is only when you interpret Gen 12:3 in light of a much broader narrative that you might arrive at Wright’s view.

    I’m not sure the temporal gap matters. Israel was given its identity and promises to the land in the call of Abraham. Those promises were fulfilled much later. But perhaps there were preliminary fulfillments in Abraham’s day: who were his 318 men anyways? There is an old tradition that Abraham was the first proselytizer (going back into rabbinic texts and also inter-testamental accounts). While this exegetical tradition may be without historical basis, it is present at the time of the writing of the NT. Like the purchase of the cave of Machpelah, the joining of Abraham’s men to his household in circumcision (Gen 17) may be a preliminary, anticipatory indication of the fulfillment of God’s promise.

    It is true that strict separateness is the basic command, though there is a continual dialectic between this and the incorporation of Gentiles. See the genealogy in Mt 1 (Rahab, Ruth) for significant examples. This ever-present tension suggests that the purpose of the separation is for the sake of eventual incorporation. We should not pit the incorporation of Ruth into the line of the Messiah as somehow contradicting God’s call to Israel to be separate. Rather, both point beyond themselves to God’s purpose for Israel. Temporary separation is for the goal of eventual reunification, when the dividing wall of hostility comes down in the reconciling work of the Messiah. That is: when the true Israelite-Israel’s true King-has been installed as Lord of the world, then the nations must come in. That is the basic logic driving Paul’s mission. It is the scriptural logic of Zech 8, Isa 2, Micah 4, Isa 40ff.

    So: you’re right. A strict read of the OT is not going to give you much evidence that Israel was to “go into all the world”; in fact, they clearly were not supposed to. But we have these anticipatory glimpses of Israel’s destiny (318 men, Rahab, Ruth, even David’s bodyguard) that show that her separation from the world is ultimately for the sake of the reconciliation of the world. What Wright is doing is attempting to interpret each text along the way (including Gen 12:3) in terms of this broader controlling narrative. You may dispute the interpretation of individual texts, but you do also have to reckon with the fact that it seems the NT authors are also interpreting Scripture in terms of this narrative.

  67. paigebritton said,

    March 25, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, David! I actually agree with what you say about the “anticipatory glimpses” in the OT of the incorporation of the Gentiles — I just don’t think the worldwide calling to bless was ever Israel’s “mission” or “commission” so much as it was God’s promise-plan, to be fulfilled not by Israel’s managing to be faithful to Torah, but by the Man of Promise who is in the line of Israel. And maybe this is very Sailhamerish of me, but I would say that the NT authors are understanding the narrative that the OT authors communicated in the first place — and the story is really about the eschatological king from the tribe of Judah (and not about Israel’s national mission).

    It’s interesting to me that the best parallels to Wright’s construction are found in 2nd Temple Literature! It does seem to be a narrative that is read back into the OT from a later time. (The “mission of Israel to the world” idea is also increasingly prevalent in the writing and teaching of some branches of Judaism since the 1960’s; I wonder how much influence this contemporary thinking has had on Wright’s reading?)

    thanks for all of your good comments!
    pb


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