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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Reading the New Testament Conquest Accounts in a Postcolonial Setting – David Pao (Part 2)

In my last post I highlighted two insights from David Pao about the New Testament accounts of conquest. Pao also makes a distinction between theological and political imperialism. He cites the following from George Tinker, “Jesus, Corn Mother, and Conquest: Christology and Colonialism,” in Native American Religious Identity, ed. Jace Weaver (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 139.

To call upon Jesus as Lord suddenly began to strike me as a classic example of the colonized participating in our own oppression. To call upon Jesus as Lord is to concede the conquest as final and to become complicit in our own death, that is, the ongoing genocidal death of our peoples. It is an act of the colonized mind blindly reciting words that the colonizer has taught us which violate our own cultures but bring great comfort to the lordly colonizer and his missionaries.”

Pao then goes on to examine some New Testament (NT) passages. He says that “one does find an unwavering insistence on the theological claim that Jesus is Lord, but these narratives [in the NT] are equally insistent in their refusal to translate this claim into a mere ethnic or national assertion.” (p 124)

One NT passage Pao discusses is Ephesians 6:10−17. He sees the warfare in this passage in terms of “the maintenance of eschatological peace.” (126) Pao says that “Paul focuses on living in peace rather than in anger (4:26−30). Again, the way of peace became the weapon against the evil one.” (126) He goes on to say,

Paul earlier identified this “mystery of the gospel” as the creation of the one body in Christ (3:1−6). This conclusion therefore reinforces the significance of such weapons as ones that subvert the status and power of their hearers for the sake of this Gospel of peace. (126)

Then Pao examines the Book of Revelation and says the following.

In the midst of this conquest narrative [in Revelation], the critique of the use of the power and strength of this world is striking: “If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed” (13:10). Being captured and the refusal to use the sword then became the ultimate weapon through which the ultimate war can be won. Again, not only does the author resist transferring the strong and clear theological claim into political and national claims, he subverts the utility of physical power by focusing on the power of being faithful to the slaughtered Lamb. (127)

In my next post I will highlight more insights from Pao’s book chapter.

 

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).

Reading the New Testament Conquest Accounts in a Postcolonial Setting­ – David Pao (Part 1)

I just finished reading a book chapter by David W Pao about “holy war” and the New Testament. It is well written and I have learned a lot from it. I like the fact that Pao maintains that Jesus is the Lord of all, and that “God the Victor is not in the possession one national and ethnic group”. (p 134)

In this post I will highlight two insights from Pao.

Pao sees the “Word of God” as the ultimate “warrior” in the Book of Acts. That is, the Word (in Acts) is “an instrument of God’s will in history.” (p 120) But it is important to note that “while the Word is the victorious and glorious Word, the church is the one that suffers in the hands of the enemies of the Word. This motif therefore points to the coexistence of the theology of glory and the theology of suffering in the same narrative [in Acts].” (p 120) Also, “human agents cannot claim to ‘possess’ this Word. Therefore, these agents cannot claim to have conquered the world through their own power or initiative.” (p 121)

In Revelation, we find, according to Pao, the “focus on the centrality of the death of Christ as the critical turning point in the struggle between God and Satan”. (p 122) “Followers of Christ can participate in this victory [of Christ] not through the assertion of power, but through the acceptance and proclamation of the Gospel of the cross. Through this Gospel, one finds the redefinition of power and victory, as suffering and humiliation become the ultimate weapon through which the sovereignty of God can be affirmed.” (p 123; emphasis added)

More posts about Pao’s views will be posted over the next few days.

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).