Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 4

Jackson picks up Roman Imperial Ideology in discussing the New Creation. He makes the point, early on, that Paul was writing alongside Rome’s developing ideology which was meant to secure a ‘new empire’ of sorts. As we see in the Gospels (Jackson specifically sites John) and the Book of Revelation, this relatively new idea that Roman ideology was playing a role in Christian writings is something which must be continuously studied. It was very much a concerted effort to make everyone Roman under the ‘new world order.’ However, as Jackson notes, there are parallels, but questions remain of why Paul would use the pervasive Imperial Ideology, even in his letters which seemingly had nothing to do with Rome, such as the epistle to Galatia.

He makes a point at the bottom of 62 that there may be unconscious correlations. By this he means that “Similar language does not necessarily imply borrowing, influence or engagement at any level at all. It could be that there were standard ways of speaking about certain subjects that are used in both imperial ideology as well as in Paul’s writing.” This fits well into examining the Gospels, in that some will go so far as to take a single word, find a match in the well-known Homer, forgetting that if Greek literature was learned, it was learned by Homer, and believe that they have discovered the literary source for one of the Gospels. Jackson is correct that borrowing words do not mean that the author has another author in mind; it just means that they use the same language. Jackson saves himself the worry of being proved completely wrong when he allows that while Paul may not be attempting to bring down the house of Caesar, he is nevertheless worried with the cultural implications of the ideology (63). The author seems to be open to making concrete generalizations, but seems equally aware that his thesis is not to be considered concrete, and thus leaves himself some wiggle room, as it were, for further discussion. He moves on, and instead of supposing Paul’s mission against Roman Imperial Ideology, instead focuses on how the idea of the New Creation would have been heard in the communities impressed with Caesar.

Jackson goes backwards, a little bit I believe, in connecting once again New Creation with the Cosmos. He seemingly connects Virgil’s thought of Rome with new creation, but doesn’t really provide the evidence that Virgil’s political poem could first be connected to Isaiah in any meaningful way. Granted, cosmic events were connected to the Empire in the ancient world, but I think that in trying to connect a similarity in thought between Paul and Virgil, at least here, over Isaiah, is stretching it. If anything, given the Pax Romana, Jackson should be focusing on a less-than cosmic New Creation, and one centered fully on earth. Throughout much of this section, Jackson makes the case more for a new world order, devoted to temporal things, than he would to a cosmic new creation, even if it was predicated upon the idea that ages come and go. He correct, then, to not the cyclical view of Roman history. And again, while he doesn’t want to go as far as some in declaring that Paul was writing with Roman imperial ideology in mind, he right to note that those immersed in the Roman culture would have been hit hard by reading Paul’s letters which declared that it wasn’t Caesar who did these things, but Christ.

All in all, this chapter is filled with a good amount of Roman history with the first Emperors, and what they used to establish their thrones. It is interesting, in that while some Emperors helped to ‘restore the Cosmic order’, the nevertheless did so while firmly rooted on earth.

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5 Replies to “Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 4”

  1. As someone who usually just lurks, I am commenting because reading this post made me say “D’oh!” in my head. The notion that the language of “new creation” might well be part of the larger ideological milieu was just not something I thought about one way or another.

    It would be interesting to read on this topic further and more deeply. Perhaps some of the author’s primary sources from Roman officials and their mouthpieces and propaganda machinery? Anyway, it is tantalizing, to say the least. Thanks for this, Joel.

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