Where Witherington finds Wright least convincing

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Ben Witherington has been doing a thorough and informative series of posts on N.T. Wright’s new/forthcoming book Paul and His Recent Interpreters, starting here—in itself a good overview of recent Pauline scholarship. I haven’t been tracking with it too closely (I have been persuaded to read the book), but a remark in part nine gave me pause.

It comes up in a discussion of Wright’s reliance on Wayne Meek’s The First Urban Christians. Witherington quotes Wright’s explanation of why at certain points he finds Meek’s sociological analysis inadequate:

Why then do I find it less than fully convincing? Because though Meeks does indeed note the christological and eschatological interpretation of scripture, I do not think he gives sufficient weight to the theme which, as I have argued elsewhere, drills down below this. Scripture, for Paul, is not merely a miscellaneous, ahistorical source of guidance. It is the earlier, and in some ways determinative, stage of the narrative in which Paul believes that he and his communities are still living. This narrative has indeed been broken in the Messiah’s crucifixion; but it continues in its new cross-shaped form, and when Paul appeals (for instance) to the exodus story in 1 Corinthians 10.1–13 he does so not simply to pick out an example from long ago but in order to stress that the erstwhile pagan converts in Corinth are part of the same, single family that was once rescued from Egypt. (Paul and His Recent Interpreters, 273)

That is, while Meek’s approach usefully explains the present experience of the Gentile churches, it does not do justice to the narrative shape of Paul’s thought. Witherington, however, is dissatisfied with Wright’s dissatisfaction, unconvinced by his explanation of why he is unconvinced:

This is where I personally find Wright least convincing. The example in 1 Cor. 10 has nothing to do with the Corinthians being told they belong to that story. It is about telling them that since we are talking about the same God, that same sort of behavior will produce the same sort of judgment. There is a big difference between using the OT as typology or moral example as Paul does here and suggesting a continuing family story. The Corinthians were never part of the Mosaic story or covenant. They were grafted into the patriarchal story and the Abrahamic covenant now fulfilled in Christ and in the new covenant.

Here we have two basic ways in which we may construe the relation between later events and the biblical narrative. Wright argues for narrative continuity: the conversion of Gentiles is part of Israel’s story. Witherington thinks that the relation between the exodus story that Paul tells in 1 Corinthians 1-10 and the situation of the Corinthian church is analogical: there is a structural similarity, but they are not the same story. He appears to think, on the basis of Romans 11:17, that Gentiles have been included in the story of the patriarchs, while the story of Israel has been reduced to a sort of digression.

I have to say, I’m with Wright in this. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Jesus is not explained in the New Testament solely in terms of the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant. The terms “Son of God” and “Son of Man”, for example, both invoke core Jewish narratives that have to do with the historical existence of the people all the way through to the current occupation of Israel by Rome. Paul draws, directly or indirectly, on these narratives. Similarly, Jesus’ death makes no sense apart from the story of Israel’s sin. For Gentiles to be “in Christ”, therefore, must entail an engagement with the Old Testament narrative about judgment, restoration and kingdom.
  • The Jewish scriptures and writings of second temple Judaism foresee some sort of involvement of Gentiles in God’s saving activity, and it becomes apparent that this will come about as a consequence of judgment upon rebellious Israel and a renewal of the covenant. As Paul says: “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11). The salvation of Gentiles is part of the story of Israel’s catastrophic failure.
  • Paul’s argument about the olive tree in Romans 11:17-24 allows for the possibility that the natural branches—the natural heirs to the promises to the patriarchs—may at some point be grafted back in. My view is that Paul hopes that his people will repent after the coming judgment against Israel, but in any case, the assumption would appear to be that Jews and Gentiles would then share a common identity as the same tree, and a common identity would mean a common story. (See my book The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom, 13.)
  • In Romans 15:8-9 Paul argues that i) in order to “confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” ii) Christ became a servant to Israel; therefore iii) the Gentiles should glorify the God of Israel for his mercy towards his people. Between the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant and the response of the Gentile is Jesus coming as a servant of the Lord to Israel.
  • From Ephesians 2:11-22 it appears that through the death of Jesus Gentiles are not merely engrafted into the root of the patriarchs but included in the “citizenship” (politeias) of Israel.

Obviously this does not mean that the Corinthians were part of the “Mosaic story or covenant”, but I don’t see how we can account for their “faith” apart from the whole Old Testament narrative. The Abrahamic covenant does not explain why it was necessary for Gentiles to turn to the living God from idols and “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Even if the argument in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 is typological, the rhetoric operates within a larger assumed narrative about Jesus and the nations which is firmly rooted in the whole story of Israel.

Finally, I would argue that the same applies to our use of scripture today. Yes, we can make typological or analogical or even allegorical use of the Bible, but we should do so, as Paul did, within a clearly understood, continuous, overarching narrative framework that doesn’t treat the story of Israel—or the story of the church, for that matter—as a massive hiatus.

Jerel Kratt | Sat, 09/12/2015 - 05:00 | Permalink

I find a literal translation of the Greek text to be most helpful here:

1 Corinthians 10:6-11 YLT  (6)  and those things became types [Greek: tupoi] of us, for our not passionately desiring evil things, as also these did desire.  (7)  Neither become ye idolaters, as certain of them, as it hath been written, `The people sat down to eat and to drink, and stood up to play;’  (8)  neither may we commit whoredom, as certain of them did commit whoredom, and there fell in one day twenty-three thousand;  (9)  neither may we tempt the Christ, as also certain of them did tempt, and by the serpents did perish;  (10)  neither murmur ye, as also some of them did murmur, and did perish by the destroyer.  (11)  And all these things as types did happen to those persons, and they were written for our admonition, to whom the end of the ages did come [Greek: katentesen, which carries the technical meaning of two ends coming to meet each other].

I understand Paul to be saying that his generation, the one to live to see the Parousia and the end of the age at the fall of the temple (Matt. 24), was a “type” of the generation that fell in the wilderness. This is often called “the second exodus.” The eschatological significance of this cannot be overlooked. Paul and Jesus’ generation was the last generation of old covenant Israel before the coming wrath, when most would fall but a remnant would pass on across the Jordan into the promised land. From Isaiah we see this described as both entering the new covenant and the new heavens and earth. It was when God would marry his people. See Isa. 61-62, 65-66. It’s subtle but you find allusions of the Gentiles being part of this remnant in 65 & 66, but also in Isa. 56:6-8, and it’s also alluded to in Hosea 2 with the covenant with the beasts of the field.


@Jerel Kratt:

Jerel, I agree with the basic point. It is the exodus story, however, that provides the tupos in this typology, not Paul’s generation. What happened to the fathers in the wilderness was a “type” of what might befall the church in Corinth if they continue to “partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons”. Similarly, Paul says that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14)—either Moses or Jesus. The “type” comes first.

@Andrew Perriman:


Thanks for the clarification. That actually is how I understand it, I just misspoke or miswrote and got it backwards on accident.

That being so, I think it bolters my position more than hurts it. The generation of Jesus was the last generation to wander in the wilderness and cross over the Jordan to enter the Promised Land (carrying with them the grafted in Gentiles to complete the one new man, the body of Christ). They were the final and full meaning and fulfillment of the type, the Mosaic Exodus. This means that there is no further, future, eschatological exodus for the church.

Isaiah is rather clear in several places that the entering into the promised land, where Israel would be married to her husband and dwelling in a new covenant and a new Jerusalem and a new heavens and earth, would happen at this second exodus at the end of the age of Moses and the inaugeration of the age of the Messiah. I see no exegetical warrant for stretching any promise in the NT out beyond this end of the age horizon, the completion of the final exodus. You yourself said that the generation of Jesus and Paul was not the type. They are not a type of a future generation for another eschatological event or another exodus crossing into yet another land.

Andrew Perriman | Sat, 10/03/2015 - 18:53 | Permalink

In reply to by Jerel Kratt

@Jerel Kratt:

I agree that there is no further extension of the exodus typology, but I don’t think that the final vindication of the creator is presented in exodus / return from exile / restoration of Israel terms. The exegetical grounding is found—to my mind—at least in Revelation 20-21 and perhaps in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15. John does not describe the renewal of God’s people but the renewal of creation and the decisive destruction of evil and death. The covenant people doesn’t feature. It’s very different to Isaiah’s new heaven and new earth. We find the same narrative in other Jewish apocalyptic texts—Sibylline Oracles 2, for example: a decisive victory and restoration for Israel, a period when the Hebrews reign (cf. John’s millennium), and then a final judgment of all humanity.

@Andrew Perriman:


This reply is going to be very long, because the subject matter is extremely deep and requires a lot of scripture quotations to precisely show the connections I want to make. I beg your forgiveness in that ahead of time.

The typology of the Exodus includes the concept of taking possession of the promised “land,” and dwelling safely in the land again is something Isaiah connects with the result of life after the eschaton. It’s also directly connected with the marriage and the new Jerusalem concepts within the new heavens and earth arrangement seen in Rev. 21-22.

Isaiah 60:10-22 ESV  Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.  (11)  Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession.   (14)  … they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. … (18)  Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.  (19)  The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (20)  Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.  (21)  Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. 

Isaiah 62:4-7 ESV  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.  (5)  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.  (6)  On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest,  (7)  and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.

Romans 8, Rev. 20-21, and 1 Cor 15 are very important, but they can’t be disconnected from their roots, especially Revelation which itself is about the revealing of Jesus’ parousia and judgment/reward at the destruction of Jerusalem.

I believe you are making a grave error when you say that John has “creation” (as in the universe) not covenant people in view. The NT often uses “creation” referring to the people of God.

Mark 16:15 ESV  And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Colossians 1:23 ESV  if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. [approx 32 years later Jesus’ command was fulfilled and it meant preaching to all areas of the oikoumene in which the Jews were scattered]

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Galatians 6:15 ESV  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.


Regarding the universal destruction language of “all creation;” this not new and one can back up much farther than the Sibylline Oracles. Isa 24-27 (the “little apocalypse”) has this very same destruction of heavens and earth and judgment on all evil to refer to the coming judgment on Babylon in the 6th century BC (and Don Preston has argued well that this section has its ultimate fulfillment in the events of AD66-70). In fact, Isa 24-27 is the backbone of both Rom. 8 and Rev 21-22. Notice:

Isaiah 24:4-6 ESV  The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish.  (5)  The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.  (6)  Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.

Isaiah 24:19-21 ESV  The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken.  (20)  The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again.  (21)  On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth.

Isaiah 24:23 ESV  Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders. (25:2)  For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the foreigners’ palace is a city no more; it will never be rebuilt.

Isaiah 25:6-9 ESV  On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 

Revelation 19:9 ESV  And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  17  Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God,

Matthew 8:11-12 ESV  I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, (12)  while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

(7)  And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  (8)  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.  (9)  It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Revelation 21:3-4 ESV  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  (4)  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Isaiah 26:2 ESV  Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.

Isaiah 60:10-11 ESV  Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.  (11)  Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession.

Revelation 21:24-25 ESV  (24)  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  (25)  and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

Isaiah 26:17-21 ESV  Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O LORD;  (18)  we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. 

Isaiah 66:7-12 ESV  “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. [Christ’s birth from death before the eschatological raising of his people] (8)  Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. [the sons of God Paul is referring to in Romans 8]  (9)  Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.  (10)  “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her;  (11)  that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.”  (12)  For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.

Romans 8:22 ESV  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

(19)  Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. 

Romans 8:23 NASB  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

(20)  Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.  (21)  For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain. [cf. Matt. 23:35 & Rev 18:24]

Isaiah 27:1 ESV  In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. [obvious source for John in Revelation]

Isaiah 27:2 ESV  In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!

Isaiah 27:7-9 ESV  Has he struck them as he struck those who struck them? Or have they been slain as their slayers were slain?  (8)  Measure by measure, by exile you contended with them; he removed them with his fierce breath in the day of the east wind.  (9)  Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, no Asherim or incense altars will remain standing. (11)  When its boughs are dry, they are broken; women come and make a fire of them. For this is a people without discernment; therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them; he who formed them will show them no favor.

Romans 9:15 ESV  For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Romans 11:21-27 ESV  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  (22)  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  … (26)  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;  (27)  “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

Isaiah 27:12-13 NASB  In that day the LORD will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel.  (13)  It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Matthew 24:31 ESV  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV  (16)  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  (17)  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV  (52)  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

If this isn’t an undeniable connection of thought for Paul and John back to Isaiah then I don’t know what is. I find no evidence or compelling reason that they had anything in view other than the horizon within their generation at the end of the age and the inheritance of the land, the marriage to the arriving King and entrance into the holy city on the holy mountain.

Back to Romans 8. Besides the fact that the position that it is a literal ending and renewal of the created universe thousands of years in the future is out of line with how the prophetic texts used universal language, such a view is abrupt and out of place of the entire narrative (especially sandwiched between the regeneration by the Spirit and the salvation of all Israel at arrival of the Deliverer). Some points to consider:

Most translations get vs. 18 wrong. Here it is correctly translated:  Romans 8:18 YLT  For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us;

Notice that Paul uses mellousan which means “being about to” particularly in the form used here. Also, the glory was to be revealed “in” them, not “to” them. The Greek word is eis, “into.”

Personification of created things mourning over an eschatological judgment is not new. Jeremiah employed it.

Jeremiah 12:4 NASB  How long is the land to mourn And the vegetation of the countryside to wither? For the wickedness of those who dwell in it, Animals and birds have been snatched away, Because men have said, “He will not see our latter ending.”

The revealing of the sons of God is exactly what Isaiah was depicting in Isa. 65-66 at the eschatological childbirth, and is what Jesus was referring to in texts like Matt. 8:10-11 and Matt. 23.

Notice what the glory is and where it is located, that the “creation” receives: Romans 8:21 ESV  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The creation is receiving the freedom, the glory of the sons of God.

Romans 8:22-23 NASB  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  (23)  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

First, I want to point out that the “we” is not all humans in comparison to the rest of the created material world, but Paul is employing the “we Jews,” the first to receive the Spirit, as he employed it in Eph. 1 and elsewhere (particularly he set it up in Romans: “to the Jew first…”).

Second, this redemption of the body was spoken of in Isaiah would happen in the day that God would plant Jacob and she would bear fruit and fill the whole earth. That was the day in which the serpent and the beast (of Revelation) would be destroyed. That is the day in which the city would be struck and the altars forever destroyed. That is the day when the trumpet is sounded and the people are gathered along with the nations entering the new city on the new mountain, joining the feast. You see, this revealing of the sons of God is the revealing that the old covenant people are the cursed, and the new covenant people, composed of Jew and Gentile in one new man, are the people of God. Their glory is revealed.

Isaiah 65:1-2 ESV  I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name.  (2)  I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;

Romans 10:20-21 ESV  Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”  (21)  But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Isaiah 65:6-7 ESV  Behold, it is written before me: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their lap  (7)  both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they made offerings on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I will measure into their lap payment for their former deeds.”

Matthew 23:31-32 ESV  Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. (32)  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.

This makes perfect sense this way where is sits in Romans, leading into the section in chapters 9-11 and the breaking off of natural branches and the grafting in of wild branches. This is the mystery that Paul would later speak of that was being revealed. To make this about the material universe would be to greatly miss the point and literalize texts that should not be literalized, violating their prophetic meaning in Isaiah.

Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV  Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— (12)  remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  (13)  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  (14)  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  (15)  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  (16)  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  (17)  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  (18)  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  (19)  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  (20)  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  (21)  in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  (22)  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:4-10 NASB  By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,  (5)  which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;  (6)  to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,  (7)  of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.  (8)  To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,  (9)  and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;  (10)  so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

Now back to Isa 65.

Isaiah 65:8-12 NASB  Thus says the LORD, “As the new wine is found in the cluster, And one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,’ So I will act on behalf of My servants In order not to destroy all of them.  (9)  “I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, And an heir of My mountains from Judah; Even My chosen ones shall inherit it, And My servants will dwell there.  (10)  “Sharon will be a pasture land for flocks, And the valley of Achor a resting place for herds, For My people who seek Me.  (11)  “But you who forsake the LORD, Who forget My holy mountain, Who set a table for Fortune, And who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny,  (12)  I will destine you for the sword, And all of you will bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight And chose that in which I did not delight.”


Notice the allusions to earlier in Isaiah — the wine, the offspring, the land, the slaughter at judgment.

Isaiah 65:13-15 NASB  Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, My servants will eat, but you will be hungry. Behold, My servants will drink, but you will be thirsty. Behold, My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame.  (14)  “Behold, My servants will shout joyfully with a glad heart, But you will cry out with a heavy heart, And you will wail with a broken spirit.  (15)  “You will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones, And the Lord GOD will slay you. But My servants will be called by another name.

This clearly has its full meaning in the contrast between the old covenant people and the new covenant people.

Isaiah 65:16-18 NASB  “Because he who is blessed in the earth Will be blessed by the God of truth; And he who swears in the earth Will swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight!  (17)  “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.  (18)  “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness.

Revelation 21:1-4 ESV  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  (2)  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  (3)  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  (4)  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

I’m not quite sure how you can say that the new heavens and earth in Isaiah is not what John had in mind. What other prophetic, predicted new heavens and earth would John be basing his from? There are no others. He is taking directly from the one in Isaiah as can clearly be seen by his numerous allusions or quotes from Isaiah throughout his Revelation especially in chps. 21-22. When you bring in the fact that the predicted New Heavens and Earth of Isaiah had not yet arrived by the time John wrote Revelation around AD64, it becomes even more apparent that there could be no other new heavens and earth for John to be referring to.

Thank you.

Jerel Kratt | Sun, 10/04/2015 - 21:40 | Permalink

In reply to by Jerel Kratt

@Jerel Kratt:

I missed bold formatting and commenting on part of the Eph 2:11ff text. I wanted to also point out how this new body that was being formed from Jews and Gentiles, that was part of this mystery connected with the inheritance at the consummation of the age (connecting this text and Eph. 1:9f with 1 Cor. 10 and Paul’s use of the Exodus typology with the consummation of the ages), was described as a tabernacle for dwelling by God, precisely how John described the tabernacle that arrives at the new heavens and earth creation.

@Andrew Perriman:

I disagree that the description of the destruction of the physical universe as it is commonly understood in modern Christianity comes from scripture.  In my opinion, the heaven and earth to be destroyed is essentially the world order at the time of the end, which is how the terminology is used in a Hebraic pre-exilic model.  I think that Christianity likely imported idea of a physical destruction of the universe from a combination of Stoic and Platonic philosophy in the era of the early church.  The church at the time was probably influenced by Gnostic teachings such as are described below by Kurt Rudolph,

“The eschatological ideas of Gnosis are not limited to the “ascent of the soul” and the concomitant problems, but as we have already indicated also include the end of the cosmos.  In gnostic studies this is always appreciated sufficiently.  It seems that it was the Nag Hammadi texts which first opened our eyes to the perspective of the gnostic view of history.  This interpretation of history is a linear one, as in the Bible, i.e. as far as the cosmos is concerned it operates with an unequivocal beginning and end to an time span dominated by an unrepeatable process leading irresistibly towards a goal.” (p. 194)

“The most important phases in the eschatological drama are first the deliverance of the remaining purified or “perfected” particles of light, and then the punishment of the powers or their partial rehabilitation (which varies in the different schools of Gnosis); and finally the “confinement” or destruction of nature, which in several gnostic systems is brought about by a universal conflagration and is already introduced by the apocalyptic events at the beginning of the Endzeit.” (p. 195)

It’s somewhat difficult to untangle these ideas from the true Christian doctrine since scholars agree that the Gnostics stole directly from Christianity in some areas.  In other words, we have to make room somewhere for Gnostic doctrine that was originally Christian.  In addition, I think that Rudolph makes a mistake in the first citation because he assumes that Christian doctrine posits and end to human history.  However, since the cosmological assumptions in the passage above come directly from pagan philosophy that presumed that physical creation was polluted (as opposed to the Hebraic model in which it was, at least at some point, “good”), I think it’s likely that the need for a material conflagration of the universe is based on those systems, not true Christian doctrine.

Gnosis, Kurt Rudolph

@Doug Wilkinson:

I disagree that the description of the destruction of the physical universe as it is commonly understood in modern Christianity comes from scripture. In my opinion, the heaven and earth to be destroyed is essentially the world order at the time of the end, which is how the terminology is used in a Hebraic pre-exilic model. I think that Christianity likely imported idea of a physical destruction of the universe from a combination of Stoic and Platonic philosophy in the era of the early church. The church at the time was probably influenced by Gnostic teachings


This is perfectly on target.  I also think it’s clear that the “heaven and earth” to be destroyed in the OT&NT is a world order, and in my mind it was Israel’s world order under the law.  Jerel did a very good job of showing this in his long post.  This world order was spread across the entire oikoumene because Israel was spread across the entire oikoumene.

The more I study the more I realize just how much the early Church fathers, basically, screwed up big time.  This of course only then acted as a snow ball rolling downhill affecting Church doctrine, Christianity’s entire worldview and its Biblical interpretation to this day.  If you ask me what we have today isn’t even Christianity.  It’s a man made machine/business revolving around money.  The bigger the building (look at this $90 million dollar campus that I was once proud of) and the large the number of members the more approved by God.  I am so grateful to (full) Preterism which is probably the largest — not the only- lever today opening eyes to these influences as well as straighten us all out with truth.


peter wilkinson | Sat, 09/12/2015 - 12:12 | Permalink

I’ve only read up to part five of Witherington’s review on Patheos, so can only comment in part. The focus on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 perhaps isolates in an incomplete way a larger argument, but it seems to me that Witherington has spotted an important issue, which is that because the Gentiles do not participate in the old covenant, under which Israel was judged both in the wilderness and in the destruction of the temple in AD 70, there is a disjunction between them and Israel in the narrative.

However, in arguing for the credence of the narrative intepretation, to which I subscribe, I would invert the usual way of presenting things (Wright’s and yours), by asking: whose narrative are we talking about?

If the story of the Gentiles is part of the story of Israel, then Israel becomes the dominating feature of the continuation of the narrative — to this day. I think this distorts the story.

If we invert this, and say that the story of Israel was part of a larger story of the Gentiles, ie the whole world outside Israel, and that God’s intention in his dealings with Israel always was the salvation of the Gentile world, the difficulties of speaking of Gentiles as being incorporated into Israel (which they plainly were not in a multitude of ways) can be resolved.

The twist in the narrative is that God was working through a largely disobedient nation (Israel), called to be the instrument of constituting an obedient people, where obedience was expressed through the Spirit rather than the law.

So 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 is a warning, but from the perspective of a very different covenant. The continuity rests in the fact that the disobedient attitudes of Israel in the earlier story would have equally negative consequences if emulated by a people under a different covenant in a later part of the story. The discontinuity is that Israel’s story then was her story, not that of the Gentiles.

The overall presupposition to be suggested is not the overarching story of Israel, in which the Gentiles play a part, but the overarching story of the Gentiles, in which Israel plays a part.

The key role is played by Jesus. You say that Jesus became a servant “to” Israel (Romans 15:8-9). Someone will correct my understanding here, but the transliterations and translations I have read interpret this is as a servant “of” Israel. The distinction may seem small, but “of” rather than “to” draws more attention to Jesus’s role in releasing the Abrahamic promises which had been obstructed (by disobedience) under the Mosaic covenant. This is clearly how Paul understood Jesus.

Paul says in Romans 9-11 that this disobedience was to do with Israel’s refusal to accept that God’s plans now were for the inclusion of the Gentiles (a far cry from disobedience as trying to ‘get to heaven by my own efforts’). Israel wanted to maintain clear blue water between herself and the Gentiles. This is the heart of Wright’s critique of the meaning of “works righteousness” as “bootstrap up-pulling”, a critique which he bases on Sanders’ “covenantal nomism”.

Whatever else Jesus did, he opened the way for the Gentiles to become the people of one God on an equal footing with the Jews,  while the Jews would rather God had made the nations subservient to their nation through military conquest, and only to be included, if at all, on pain of circumcision.

The phrases “Son of God” in particular, and “son of man” more ambivalently, are part of the earlier and continuing narrative, but Paul fleshes out in somewhat unique ways exactly what it meant for Jesus to have fulfilled these roles — which were not as Israel had anticipated.

I’d have thought the necessity for Gentiles “to turn to the living God from idols and ‘to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come’ ” does invoke the Abrahamic covenant, in the sense that Abraham was called out of idolatrous Ur, a civilisation destined for judgment, for obedience to the one God. The prophetic action of the commanded sacrifice of his son Isaac was invoked by Paul not simply as a type of Jesus’s death and resurrection, but also to show how narrative continuity would have been maintained in Abraham’s confidence that the one God could, and would have, raised the dead — Romans 4:20-25. All of Jesus’s coming actions are prefigured in the Abrahamic story and covenant.

The example of Abraham and Isaac works both typologically, by illustrating the death and resurrection of Jesus, and narrativally, by illustrating in history how continuity would have been maintained in the narrative which required the promised heir of Abraham to be able to carry forward the promises concerning the nations — Genesis 22:16-18 etc. 

This narrative of the Abrahamic promises, obstructed by disobedience under the Mosaic covenant, was indeed “the gospel announced in advance” — Galatians 3:8.

@peter wilkinson:

Thanks for the comment, Peter. I’ll pick up on a couple of issues.

If we invert this, and say that the story of Israel was part of a larger story of the Gentiles, ie the whole world outside Israel, and that God’s intention in his dealings with Israel always was the salvation of the Gentile world, the difficulties of speaking of Gentiles as being incorporated into Israel (which they plainly were not in a multitude of ways) can be resolved.

That would be an interesting step to take if it could be shown to be true. From a later historical perspective, it would make a lot of sense, but the Old Testament evidence for it is vanishingly small.

But the more important thing to say here is that it is an argument for narrative continuity. It’s beside the point that Gentiles do not participate in the old covenant—that goes without saying. As you yourself note, the disobedience of Israel introduces a twist into the narrative, and it is this—not the covenant with Abraham—that results in the inclusion of Gentiles.

Then I would say that the inclusion (or salvation) of Gentiles is not the end of it. That is not the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham. It is the means by which the promise is to be fulfilled. The priestly-prophetic people through which the nations will be blessed consists now also of Gentiles. 

The key role is played by Jesus. You say that Jesus became a servant “to” Israel (Romans 15:8-9). Someone will correct my understanding here, but the transliterations and translations I have read interpret this is as a servant “of” Israel. The distinction may seem small, but “of” rather than “to” draws more attention to Jesus’s role in releasing the Abrahamic promises which had been obstructed (by disobedience) under the Mosaic covenant. This is clearly how Paul understood Jesus.

You’re right. Paul says literally that “Christ became a servant of [the] circumcision”. I’ve checked six commentaries, however, and they all seem to think that Paul means that Jesus was a servant to Israel.

Dunn takes the view that this refers to his ministry “almost exclusively to the Jews” (Romans 9–16, 1988). Wright: Jesus “had concentrated his work on ethnic Israel” (Romans, 747). Murray: “That Christ has become a minister of the circumcision accentuates again the way in which Israel comes within the purview of Christ’s mission” (The Epistle to the Romans, 205). Murray thinks that Paul also has in view circumcision as the “seal” of the covenant with Abraham, but in the context of Romans, where circumcision is so closely associated with being a Jew and keeping the Law, that seems very unlikely. Fitzmyer: “Jesus had to be a Jew and minister to them…” (Romans, 706). And last but certainly not least conservative Moo:

Paul’s assertion that Christ has become a servant to “the circumcision,” the Jews, reflects Jesus’ own sense of calling “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), a calling that Paul alludes to by asserting that Christ was “born under the law that he might redeem those under the law” (Gal. 4:4b–5a). (D.J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (1996), n.p.)

In his Grammar of New Testament Greek, 211, Turner notes as an example of the objective genitive (where the object is indirect) Galatians 2:7: to euangelion tēs akrobustias, “the gospel for the uncircumcised”. This looks like a good analogy to the expression in Romans 15:8.

@Andrew Perriman:

The connection of Gentiles to the Old Covenant is very clearly seen in Deuteronomy 32.  This chapter describes the Song of Moses (the other one), which was a song meant to be practiced by Israel annually in order to remind them of their ultimate destiny.  In it, there would be a “perverse generation” (v.20, a description of the Jews used by Jesus, Peter, and Paul) that would define the generation of “the end”.  In that final generation, God would draw Gentiles to himself in order to make the apostate Jews jealous (v.21).  The end game for that perverse generation is the sword.

The role of the Gentiles in Paul’s generation is very clearly described in the destiny of Israel under the Old Covenant.

@Doug Wilkinson:

Whatever Paul may have understood by it, Deuteronomy 32:21 does not mean that Gentiles would be “saved” or included in the covenant people; it doesn’t say that “God would draw Gentiles to himself”. Craigie: ‘The result was inevitable; if they wanted to trust in a “no-god,” then they would experience the judgment of God at the hands of a “no-people.”’

@Andrew Perriman:

I think you’re missing the promise to the good guys and the resonance of that as it builds throughout scripture (cf Isaiah 65:1-3).  It most certainly does have to do with saving the good guys in the midst of the crisis.  And, that includes the Gentiles since Paul is clear that salvation has been offered to the Gentiles in order to fulfill the promise of Deut. 32:21.  To hear how the promise unfolds in Deut 32, check out the climax of the song, where the good guys will be vindicated (saved) and the bad guys will be destroyed:

Deuteronomy 32:35-43 (ESV)

35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’

36 For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.

37 Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge,

38 who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!

39 ” ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

40 For I lift up my hand to heaven and swear, As I live forever,

41 if I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me.

42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh— with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’

43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”