"For us": Why, if Wright is right, so is Bultmann
'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us' (Gal 3:13)
A great question was posted on the Wrightsaid discussion group today about Wright's interpretation of the 'us' in the sentence above.
According to Wright, the Torah brought the Jewish people curse, namely exile. 'Because the Messiah represents Israel, he is able to take on himself Israel's curse and exhaust it' (The Climax of the Covenant, 151, italics mine). Because of this, the covenant blessing (specifically the gift of the Spirit) is made available to Gentiles. So Christ dies directly for Jews only; indirectly for Gentiles.
While this post won't attempt to analyse the plausibility of this claim in broad terms, my thoughts were stirred as I worked on my exegesis of 1 Corinthians 8 today. In 8:7-12 Paul writes:
'It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled ... For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.' (NRSV)
That Paul is speaking of Gentile Christian believers is clear (Gentile Christians: 8:7 'accustomed to idols
until now'. Believers: 8:11 'believers'; 8:12 'brothers' – or 'family' in the inclusive language of the NRSV). Yet Paul is clear that Christ died specifically for them. There is no 'I mean indirectly', and to import it into this text is rather arbitrary (for more along these lines, cf., off the top of my head, the matter of partaking in the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 10 and 11).
Now this could be taken as evidence that puts a question mark against Wright's reasoning (Jim West nods vigorously).
But if not, if Wright's reading of Gal 3:13 is accepted, such evidence in 1 Cor 8 is of hermeneutical significance. It means that Paul universalised a historically contingent event that originally indicated only death for Jews. It means Paul directly applied a story about Jewish exile and restoration to Gentiles in Corinth, without batting an eyelid, and without concerning himself with that narrative in his reasoning. Paul wasn't concerned about the historical contingency or specificity of the event, but rather with its emerging theological breadth, which sundered it from an isolated anchorage to its immediate historical concern (Jim West gives a slightly bewildered nod).
In other words, if Wright's reading is upheld in light of such evidence, doors open wide to appreciate the scriptural precedence and wisdom of something akin to Bultmann's project.
To formulate things with a slight dose of provocation: If Wright's exile and restoration reading in Gal 3 is right, so was Bultmann. :-)