Thoughts for Tuesday 15th September, 2020

Psalm 77; Nehemiah 9:9-15; Romans 14:13-15:2

 

Tuesday 15 September

 

I’m about half-way through a short book called, ‘God and the Pandemic’. It’s by Tom (or, to give him his ‘academic’ initials, N.T.) Wright. Now at Oxford, from 2010 to 2019 Tom was Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Andrews University; and before that he was Bishop of Durham.

 

Tom Wright is someone who, for as long as I can remember, has been in the very thick of debates about the New Testament. In 1978 he coined the phrase, a ‘new perspective on Paul,’ and this has been the source of controversy within church circles ever since. Our reading from Romans today, if not actually a key passage, is certainly typical of those that have been discussed, and been so at times quite contentiously.

 

What the ‘new perspective’ does is to call into question the old perspective on Paul, which dates back to the work of reformers such as Luther and Calvin in the 16th century. Its origins go back a little bit further than this, but in 1977 a Texan called E.P. Sanders wrote a book called, ‘Paul and Palestinian Judaism’, in which he argued that the reformers had been wrong to equate First Century Judaism with 16th century Catholicism; and that this had distorted their understanding.

 

And I don’t want to oversimplify that which has ensued, as numerous books and papers have been published and delivered, but it does seem to me, as the ‘new perspective’ asserts, that the baby might well have been thrown out with the bathwater by our Protestant forebears to some extent. In Romans 14, Paul is addressing Jewish dietary legislation (and elsewhere he discusses circumcision and the Sabbath law). And while the ‘old perspective’ was to extrapolate from Paul’s statement that, ‘no food is of itself ritually unclean’ in order to deny the entire Law of Moses, the ‘new perspective’ now disputes this . . .

 

. . . and understands Paul as someone who did his utmost instead – and we see it happening here – to make sure that people within an emerging community that was ethnically and socially diverse, felt comfortable with what was happening, whoever they were.

 

Let us pray:

 

(The Selkirk Grace)

 

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit,

 

Amen.


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