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Monday, June 27, 2005

St. Paul the subversive.

Our no-longer-fledgling parish bible study (just passing two years old) is beginning a study of the Epistle to the Galatians. As part of my background prep, I stumbled across this truly fascinating article by N.T. Wright (surprise, surprise) about coded anti-imperial messages found in the epistles of Paul.

If Jesus is Messiah, he is of course also Lord, Kyrios. The proper contexts for this term, too, are its Jewish roots on the one hand and its pagan challenge on the other. Taking them the other way round for the moment: the main challenge of the term, I suggest, was not to the world of private cults or mystery-religions, where one might be initiated into membership of a group giving allegiance to some religious "lord." The main challenge was to the lordship of Caesar, which, though certainly "political" was also profoundly "religious." Caesar demanded worship as well as "secular" obedience; not just taxes, but sacrifices. He was well on the way to becoming the supreme divinity in the Greco-Roman world, maintaining his vast empire not simply by force, though there was of course plenty of that, but by the development of a flourishing religion that seemed to be trumping most others either by absorption or by greater attraction. Caesar, by being a servant of the state, had provided justice and peace to the whole world. He was therefore to be hailed as Lord, and trusted as Savior. This is the world in which Paul announced that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was Savior and Lord.

Lots of good stuff, including background material showing that the emperor cult was omnipresent by Paul's time. RTWT. And ponder what it means for the duties of modern Christian citizens, as well. Really meaty stuff, when you get down to it.

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