Wright on Paul’s use of Scripture: Steve Moyise @ Newman

BeFunky_Newman globe.jpgIt was a great pleasure to have one of our Visiting Professors, Steve Moyise, with us the other week to present a couple of papers to students, staff and members of the public.

His first paper assessed NT Wright’s understanding of Paul’s use of scripture in his recent book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, (PFG),  published by SPCK in 2013.

Steve has generously allowed us to upload his handout (link below) as well as an audio recording of this session.

 Professor Steve Moyise, Newman University, 12th Feb 2015

Steve makes particular note of Wright’s methodological framework for arguing that Paul’s theology was thoroughly ‘biblical.’ Steve noted Wright’s appeal to a “controlling narrative or worldview” (for example, the ‘end of exile’ theme) as key to understanding Paul’s use of the Hebrew scriptures. Furthermore, Steve argues that, from Wright’s perspective:

“worldview trumps language-system. Wright thinks that scholars have often been led astray by finding parallels to obscure texts or themes but “it is worldview, rather than the language-system, which determines how the relevant metaphors work.” (PFG, 166)”

This is significant as the approach Wright takes means that, when attempting to investigate Paul’s actual use of scripture, traditional methodologies apparently become somewhat redundant. As Steve observes:

Traditional questions, such as whether there is sufficient verbal similarity with another text to warrant such an inference, or whether Paul’s readers/hearers would have the wherewithal to detect such a reference, are swept aside, for “Israel’s scriptures were as familiar to Paul, and as readily available in his well-stocked mind, as Beethoven’s sonatas to a concert pianist.” (PFG, 13)

This worldview in Paul’s theology, according to Wright, is based upon a reading of Deuteronomy (particularly chapter 20) and Daniel. In PFG (2013:162) Wright argues that:

it is the combination of Deuteronomy and Daniel, and their regular retrieval in the key sources, that compels us to go on highlighting ‘exile’ as the best controlling metaphor to characterize this continuing moment in the single, though complex, perceived narrative of a great many Jews, including Pharisees, in the second-Temple period.

Steve then assesses this approach, examining some of the basic assumptions (and rhetoric) that underpins it, as well as questions that it raises – particularly the rather dismissive way in which Wright addresses the historical sensitivities of some scholars in his attempt to establish a consistent and coherent use of scripture by Paul.

For example, Steve observes that, if Paul is reading Deut 30 as applying to his day:

 It is therefore quite reasonable for readers, historically sensitive, or otherwise, to ask how Paul thought the promise [Deut 30:16] “then you shall live and become numerous” refers to the preaching of the gospel in his own day.

[italics added for emphasis]

It is the question ‘how’ that Wright never fully answers. Steve suggests that by firmly anchoring Paul’s use of scripture in an “overarching metanarrative,” “allusions and echoes” tend to be favoured over quotations – as, by their very nature, they are easier to connect with that narrative. Furthermore, it appears to account for “Wright’s reluctance to link Paul’s exegesis with specific Jewish exegetical techniques.”

Although Steve notes the valuable contribution that PFG makes to Pauline scholarship, he suggests that the task of fully understanding Paul’s use of scripture is still something that remains very much open.


Wright’s Understanding of Paul’s Use of Scripture – Seminar Handout

For those wanting to read more about Steve’s thoughts on Paul and the use of the Old Testament, I would recommend his introduction to the subject; Paul and Scripture (SPCK, 2010) and his 2006 SBL paper (Paul and Scripture Seminar), How Does Paul Read Scripture?

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