Reading the New Testament Conquest Accounts in a Postcolonial Setting ­– David Pao (Part 3)

In two previous posts I mentioned some key points in a chapter of a book called After Imperialism, where David Pao talks about Jesus’ lordship, the gospel of peace, and the New Testament’s subversion of the use of physical power. In the following I will say a few things about Pao’s view on the New Testament being “writings from the margin.” Here is a good quote.

[A]lthough the conquest motif is a prominent one in the New Testament texts, these texts were all written from the margin … the reality of the power of the cross and the resurrection is one confession that cannot be compromised. In terms of social location, though, the realization that these conquest narratives were generated from those who were without power allows one to read these narratives as anti-imperial claims. (p 128)

Pao also points to Acts 17:7 (there is another king names Jesus) and 28:31 (Paul proclaimed the kingdom of God in Rome, the centre of the Roman Empire), and says the following.

Noting that Luke is describing a marginal sect that was challenging the claims of the Roman imperial power, this conquest narrative should be considered as a critique of the dominant power of the time. Rather than being politically imperialistic, this narrative actually provides fuel for a postcolonial reading properly defined. (129)

Pao then turns to Ephesians and makes these comments.

[Christ’s] “suffering” becomes the “glory” of the Gentiles (3:13) because such suffering points back to the cross, a symbol of humiliation that is able to destroy the stronghold of the cosmic powers (2:16). Paul’s powerlessness, therefore, becomes the ultimate weapon against the power of this world. (130)

After this, Pao examines some passages in Revelation.

In these conquest narratives, one fails to find an exertion of power and an imposition of the ideology of a politically and/or economically dominant group upon the inferior group. What one finds instead is the prophetic call to justice and a critique of the unjustified claims of the dominant imperial power. Once they attained positions of power, later generations of Christians often failed–and today continue to fail–to resists the temptation to exert unwelcome and unjustifiable control of others. (131)

Later, Pao says,

Through this conquest narrative, John is careful to describe the battle between God and Satan without automatically assuming that those who claim to be God’s people are indeed fighting for God. (133−4)

Here is my final quote from Pao’s fine essay.

The New Testament conquest narratives do not seek to affirm the power and status of those who receive such narratives; they seek, rather, to unveil the self-deception of those who assume that they are fighting for the good. On the other hand, in the postcolonial age it is equally tempting for the colonized to constantly assume the posture of a victim and thus shield themselves from the demands of the truth claims of the Gospel. To do so is likewise to be ”deluded by the concept of our innocency.” (134)



Source: David W. Pao, “”Holy War’ and the Universal God: Reading the New Testament Conquest Accounts in a Postcolonial Setting” in After Imperialism, edited by Richard R. Cook and David W. Pao (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011).


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