Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination: ‘The Martyn School’

I have discussed the apocalyptic imagination several times on this blog…

The ‘Lacking’ Apocalyptic Imagination

Holy Apocalyptic, Batman!

…and in my next several posts I want to continue the discussion by highlighting several different views of Paul’s apocalyptic imagination. This first installment discusses:

‘The Martyn School’

  • known for its inaugurated eschatology
  • drawn significantly from Martyn’s work in Galatians

J. Louis Martyn writes, “Paul’s theological point of departure is…the apocalypse of Christ and the power of that apocalypse to create a history.”[1]

The opening and closing of Paul’s letter to the Galatians frame the whole letter in an apocalyptic manner. Galatians begins with a declaration of deliverance as Paul writes, “the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘who gave up his very life for our sins,’ so that he might snatch us out of the grasp of the present evil age, thus acting in accordance with the intention of God our Father.” (1:3b-4).[2] As the result of Jesus Christ’s death “for our sins,” he liberated “us” from the destructive power of the world. Richard Hays writes, “Paul’s gospel declares God’s gracious invasion of the world.”[3] Thus, Paul’s apocalyptic gospel is evident from the letter’s opening words, as he begins Galatians proclaiming deliverance from this evil world through God’s apocalyptic act in the death (1:3-4) and resurrection (1:1) of Jesus Christ.

Galatians closes by focusing on the new that has come. Gal. 6:12-15 contains some of Paul’s most striking language as he explains that the old world has been crucified to him and he to the old world through the cross of Jesus Christ. He writes, “As for me, God forbid that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the cosmos has been crucified to me and I to the cosmos.” (6:14). Nevertheless, Paul does not end with crucifixion, instead concluding with an ecstatic cry, “new creation” (6:15). In 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul explicitly connects “new creation” with being “in Christ” saying, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” and the image is the same in Galatians. Those who are “in Christ Jesus” (3:26) receive “the Spirit of [God’s] Son” (4:6) thus they “belong to Christ Jesus” (5:24) and with him they die to the old and live in “new creation” (2:20, 6:14-15).

The beginning and ending of Galatians highlights how Paul views the Christ-event as the act that brings about the death of one world and the inauguration of another. Bruce W. Longenecker writes, “[Paul] envisages the establishment of a new realm of existence. It is a sphere of life wholly differentiated from the ‘cosmos’ that has been crucified to Paul a domain where distinctive patterns of life are operative.”[4] Simply stated, Christ in his death and resurrection rescues “us” from the present evil age and inaugurates new creation. God’s sending of his Son to liberate humanity is the axis around which everything revolves. The old defeated. The new inaugurated. The present altered. To quote at length, Douglas A. Campbell writes,

Nothing can be the same again. Both Paul and his fellow Christians are living in a new reality that, in a sense, only they can understand. In the light of this new reality they understand that Christ has rescued them from a tortured previous reality within which they were oppressed by evil powers. Christ and his followers are presently at war with that evil dominion, and to a degree the war extends through the middle of each Christian community and each Christian person in the form of an ongoing conflict between flesh and spirit. Nevertheless, Christ has effected the decisive act of deliverance and victory. Christians are saved and dramatically! They have been set free and must now resist the temptation to lapse back into the old, evil, but strangely comfortable reality from which they have been delivered.[5]

God has transformed the cosmos by creating a history, a new creation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] J. Louis Martyn, “Events in Galatia: Modified Covenantal Nomism versus God’s Invasion of the Cosmos in the Singular Gospel: A Response to J.D.G. Dunn and B.R. Gaventa,” in Pauline Theology, vol. 1: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon, ed. Jouette M. Bassler (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 164.

[2] Translations of Galatians are from Martyn’s commentary. J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 3-10. 

[3] Richard B. Hays, Galatians, New Interpreter’s Bible IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 202.

[4] Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 37.

[5] Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 190.

4 thoughts on “Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination: ‘The Martyn School’

  1. What would you suggest one read to get a good feel for Martyn? I’ve wanted to read Martyn’s Galatians commentary for a while.

    Also – would you happen to know where Martyn says something similar to this: “There is no salvation-history before Christ”?

    Like

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