Unity, Holiness, and the People of God – an Excerpt from The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life

The following is an excerpt from N. T. Wright’s essay “Paul and Missional Hermeneutics” in The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica.


One of the great benefits of some kinds of “new perspective” reading (note that there are many different kinds of reading which come under that umbrella) is that, without losing the importance of every person having a living faith (as some wrongly imagine), we can grasp Paul’s constant emphasis on unity, starting (for instance) with Galatians, where it is absolutely central. In addition, without going soft on Paul’s insistence on “faith alone” as the marker of justification, we can leave behind the threat of antinomianism that comes from a low-grade, would-be Reformational reading of that doctrine.

Cover ArtFor Paul, justification by faith is the demarcation of the sin-forgiven people of God. People in this category are, on the one hand, the “circumcision of the heart”: though not having the law, they keep it because the Spirit has written it on their hearts (Rom. 2:25–29). They are, on the other hand, the inaugurated new creation, living from within the resurrected Messiah. They stand under the mē genoito of Romans 6:2, and their lives are to embody before the watching world the signs of new creation, including kindness, generosity, abstention from anger and malice, and not least sexual purity, whether in marriage or in celibacy. This kind of a way of life, of community, was more or less unknown in the ancient world. This is why the church was, for Paul, the sign and symbol of the new covenant and the new creation.

But Paul does not mention mission—except perhaps in one passage to which we will come presently. This has worried me, because as a bishop I used to tell people that the church should be shaped by mission, and that mission should be shaped by eschatology. We used to warn against imagining that the first task was to sort out the church and only then, if there was any time left, which often there wasn’t, one might get around to some mission. But the more I have studied Paul, the more I have become convinced that for him the fact of this symbol—of the united and holy community in the Messiah—was itself the mission, or at any rate the heart of it.

Paul knows of other “evangelists”like himself; that was a specific commission. He never suggests that all Christians possessed that calling (another puzzle for some traditional readings). But he sees the church itself as the powerful sign to the watching world, and for that matter to the watching principalities and powers, that a new way of being human has been launched upon the world, and that this is because there is a new kyrios, a new sōtēr, embodying the power and love of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

©2016 by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


For more information on The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life, click here.

New Release: The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life

Cover ArtThe new perspective on Paul has been criticized by some as not having value for ordinary Christians living ordinary lives. In this volume, world-renowned scholars offer a response to this question: How does the apostle Paul understand the Christian life? They explore the implications of the new perspective on Paul for the Christian life as well as the church.

Contributors include James D. G. Dunn, Lynn Cohick, Timothy Gombis, Tara Beth Leach, Bruce Longenecker, Scot McKnight, Patrick Mitchel, and N. T. Wright. This book makes a fresh contribution to the new perspective on Paul conversation and offers important new insights into the orientation of the Christian life.


“Although the new perspective on Paul has been controversial, it has also been a great impetus toward rethinking theology and practice, not least in forcing us to see how the issues of grace and race are indelibly bound up together. In this volume, McKnight and Modica lead an international team of biblical scholars in thinking through what it means to say that God saves Jews and gentiles through faith in Jesus, and how this shapes mission, ethics, holiness, community, and the Christian life. A stimulating and stirring read about what Paul means today!”—Michael F. Bird, Ridley College

“‘Can these dry bones (of academic theories) live?’ This question—the ‘so what’ factor—is not asked often enough in academia. But this book commences with the ‘so what’ question in regard to the new perspective on Paul. In recent years, some have declared the new perspective to be passé at best and dead at worst. The contributors to this book make a cogent case not only that the new perspective is still a compelling reading of Paul in his context but also that it draws out a depth and vitality in his theology and spirituality that can guide the Christian life and the church’s life today.”—Nijay K. Gupta, George Fox Evangelical Seminary


Scot McKnight (PhD, University of Nottingham), Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, is a world-renowned scholar, writer, and speaker. His blog, Jesus Creed, is one of the most popular and influential evangelical blogs. He has authored or edited more than fifty books, including Kingdom Conspiracy, The King Jesus Gospel, and Sermon on the Mount.

Joseph B. Modica (PhD, Drew University) is university chaplain and associate professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania. McKnight and Modica are coeditors of Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies.

For more information on The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life, click here.

BA Books & Authors on the Web – March 18, 2016

Cover ArtTim Harmon, at Western Seminary’s Transformed blog, reviewed Ingolf Dalferth’s Crucified and Resurrected.

“Dalferth’s work here is to be lauded, as it exemplifies contemporary scholarship of the first order. With an acute awareness of the past, Dalferth yet skillfully operates within and seeks to advance the present social and theological milieu.”

At Euangelion, Michael Bird reviewed The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica.

Union with Christ, by J. Todd Billings, was reviewed by Dan Glover.

Craig Bartholomew’s Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics was reviewed by Steve Bishop.

“Perhaps the best book on hermeneutics yet written!”