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The Purpose of Paul’s Letters

What if the actual purpose of Paul’s letters was to explain OT scripture to a predominately Gentile church that was steeped in the OT? Is this a funny thought? We know that the early churches scripture was the OT. We know that conversion to the Christian faith was essentially acceptance of the Jewish Messiah as Savior and Lord. We know that Paul consistently quotes the OT to create context for his explanation of the Christian life in the midst of immense Gentile influences. We know that Paul relies on the covenant meta-narrative to represent a picture of Christ as the eschatological fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to save all nations. Why then would we not assume that Paul is writing to explain the past history of Israel, it’s present state of Jewish and Gentile oneness in Christ, and the ultimate eschatological fulfillment of the Kingdom of God? The New Perspective spends a lot of time trying to differentiate between the audiences in Paul’s text in its inclusion strategy. The Old Perspective spends an inordinate amount of time trying to conjure up discontinuity between the Testaments.

The fact is that something has change between the Testaments but to call this change a discontinuity belittles God’s sovereignty and defines his grace in unrealistic hierarchical  structures. In the OT the people of Yahweh were defined by His presence as He dwelt in their midst. In the NT the people of Yahweh are defined by His presence as He dwells in their hearts. In the OT God’s purpose was local to the promised land and he sanctified a specific people for the task of making His name great among the nations. In the NT God’s purpose is a global, to all the nations, and he again sanctifies a specific people for the task of spreading His gospel among the nations.

But just what is this gospel? For John the Baptist it was that the Kingdom of Yahweh was at hand. For Paul it was that Yahweh is fulfilling what He promised He would accomplish through His people. The death of Christ on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension, His promise of the Holy Spirit; all of these things speak of presence.  The presence of Yahweh with His people as mediated through the Holy Spirit, as made possible by the blood of Christ, is once again possible.

The effects of the Fall and the ensuing banishment from the Garden are no longer binding because of Christ. Continuity is found in the fact that we are once again reconciled to our Creator and able to fulfill our ultimate purpose as we worship Him for who He is and what He has done to make this worship possible.

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