The Paul Of History And The Apostle Of Faith -- By: N. T. Wright

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 29:1 (NA 1978)
Article: The Paul Of History And The Apostle Of Faith
Author: N. T. Wright


The Paul Of History And The Apostle Of Faith

N. T. Wright

The Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1978*

* Delivered at Tyndale House, Cambridge, on 4th July, 1978.

‘Controversy’ writes Ernst Käsemann ‘is the breath of life to a German theologian’:1 and he should know. What he imagines the rest of us breathe he does not say: but since the essay which begins with these words engages in debate with Krister Stendahl, a Swede now living in America, I see no reason why a mere Englishman may not join in as well. I want in this lecture to contribute to the debate in question, and then to exploit the ambiguities of my title and discuss the distinction which needs to be made today between the real Paul and the Apostle of the church’s imagination. The debate between Stendahl and Käsemann concerns the relation, in Paul’s thought, between justification and salvation- history - between the Apostle who preached the Lutheran gospel of justification by faith and the Paul who was called, in God’s historical purposes, to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. It would not be an overstatement to say that all the major issues in Pauline interpretation are contained (at least by implication) in this debate, and in one lecture there are therefore bound to be oversimplifications and downright lacunae. I want to try nevertheless to present what I take to be a new view of Paul, in the hope of at least stimulating fresh thought, and also to prepare the way for further, and fuller, exegetical studies. If I seem at times to be deliberately controversial, I hope you will take that as a sign that I am trying to impart the breath of life to the subject.

I. Justification And Salvation History: Stendahl And Käsemann

I begin, then, with the debate between Stendahl and Käsemann. Nearly 20 years ago Krister Stendahl wrote the now famous article ‘The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West’.2 In it he pleaded that we should let the text which Paul actually wrote function as a critique of inherited presuppositions in interpretation, and warned of the danger of ‘modernizing’ Paul. Specifically, he claimed that the picture of Paul inherited from Augustine and Luther was misleading in several important respects. Paul, he said, had never suffered from a bad conscience: the soul-searchings and agonies of Luther were not to be read back into Romans or Galatians. Instead of the question ‘how can I find a gracious God?’, Paul had asked the question: granted that the gospel is for the Gentiles, what is now the place of the Jews, and of the Torah?

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