Tag Archives: Paul

Review: Framing Paul, Douglas Campbell.

This year I have been cutting my teeth writing small book notices for different journals. It’s been a good way to learn about current scholarship, and it forces me to read closely enough to be able to say something.

Another book note in Theological Studies, this one out in September. Was astounded by the breadth of Campbell’s book—it took some time to get through!

Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. By Douglas A. Campbell. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. Pp. xxii + 468. $39.

51c9+GONhEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Campbell attempts to construct an “epistolary frame” around Pauline-attributed letters, determining each letter’s authenticity and and dating each letter both relative to one another and in absolute terms. After a lengthy methodological introduction (chap. 1), he builds his “epistolary backbone” with Romans and 1–2 Corinthians (chap. 2). C. then integrates other letters into that developing frame in succeeding chapters, surveying Philippians and Galatians (chap. 3), 1–2 Thessalonians (chap. 4), Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians (chap. 5), and Titus and 1–2 Timothy (chap. 6). C. sets aside widely assumed theories and start his Pauline reconstruction from the ground up. He discerns a 10-letter canon, including Ephesians (304), Colossians (337), and 2 Thessalonians (220), with no composite letters, and an early-40s dating of 1–2 Thessalonians (220–29).

Perhaps the strongest feature of this book is the many methodological insights C. brings to bear on the problem, including patristic reception (102), Scheidel’s ORBIS project (258, 276), textual criticism (310–11), the dynamics of orality (105), and features of prison literature (316–17). C. also deftly questions common arguments in Pauline studies, e.g., C. rejects circular arguments for inauthenticity from theological deviance and stylometrics, focusing instead on historical anachronisms.

Given the danger of making theoretical mountains out of evidential molehills inherent in C.’s task, he is generally transparent in how much certainty any given hypothesis has. However, he does overstate his point at times; his technique of discerning secondary audiences in the letters was often unconvincing (55). At other times he brought up valuable points only to leave them unexamined, such as his comment on the implications of Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic coherence” for debates about Paul’s coherence vs. contingency (9–10). Additionally, though C. convincingly argues in his introduction that Acts should only be incorporated into the Pauline chronology after surveying the letters, he does not do this integration in this book.

C.’s breadth, methodological insight, and implications for other issues in Pauline studies make this a valuable book for scholars and the non-specialist willing to wade through the length and complexity of his arguments.


Review: If Sons, Then Heirs, by Caroline Johnson Hodge.

9780195182163 (1)Hodge’s book, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul, argues that Paul’s letters do not merely theologically navigate the complexities of Gentile belonging in Christ, but actively create a new ethnic identity for those Gentile believers by employing metaphors of ethnicity and kinship to describe these believers as adopted sons of Abraham.

Her introduction spells out some of the particular methods and ideas her book draws on. After a brief introduction to recent scholarship on Paul, she identifies herself with the most “radical” (her phrase) thinkers in the New Perspective, particularly Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, and Stanley Stovers. These thinkers see Paul as writing mainly to Gentiles, and his works as creating a new myth of identity for those Gentiles who believe in Christ separate from a Mosaic covenant, rather than a Paul who is writing to Jewish Christians that the Torah is hereafter invalid. These thinkers see Paul as in greater continuity with Jewish tradition than the NPP thinkers Sanders and Dunn. Like them, Hodge seeks to move beyond a stale binary between ethnic, particular Judaism and non-ethnic, universal Christianity, arguing instead that Christianity is itself ethnic and particular. Lastly, Hodge spells out her theoretical position that ethnicity and kinship are socially constructed and malleable, even if those who employ those concepts hold them in an essentialist manner.

The first chapter of the book explains the “ideology of patrilineal descent,” a broadly shared Jewish and Greco-Roman worldview in which individuals, groups, families, and even nations construct their identity in terms of descent from a common father, a father who passes on certain traits to all his descendants. This ideology, Hodge argues, was used to construct identity, to gain power, and to define group boundaries. Paradoxically, this ideology holds ethnicity and kinship as both natural/fixed and malleable/constructed; even the same thinker can employ both conceptions of ethnicity at different times to suit his argument. Hodge reviews various discourses of kinship in the Greco-Roman world and the rituals used to maintain and legitimate them: adoption, genealogy of noble families, Kleisthenes’ re-mapping of Athens, Dionysus of Halicarnassus’ argument that Romans descend from Greeks, Josephus’ argument for the Jews’ antiquity, and the kinship of the philosophical schools of Greece and Rome. This last example proves that social domains not related to family could still use rhetoric and metaphor drawn from that domain of life—making it less outlandish that Paul would do so too.

The second chapter examines some of the binaries Paul uses to describe ethnic identity: Jew/Gentile, Jew/Greek, and circumcised/uncircumcised. Hodge delineates these in the context of two types of ethnic construction Paul engages in: opposition (constructing ethnic difference) and aggregative (constructing combining ethnic identities). For Paul, the ethnicity of Judaism is defined by ancestry, worship, and the Torah, while “gentile” (of which “Greek” is a subset) is defined by sinfulness and idolatry and by being not-Jewish (51). Mainly Hodge emphasizes that Paul does not see these identities as subsumed completely in Christ (as many readers of Gal 3:28 would have it) or as spiritualized/allegorized (as the TDNT has it).

Chapters 3­–6 examine specific kinship- and ethnicity-based metaphors Paul employs. In chapter 3, she examines the language of adoption in Gal 4:1–7 and Rom 8:14–17, and how Paul employs household hierarchies (e.g. the position of slaves) and the “spirit” to make Gentiles in relationship with God. Chapter 4 re-reads the phrase “from faith” (Rom 4:16) and “those from faith” (Gal 3:6–9) as language of descent: so Gentiles are of faith in being actually descended from Abraham by adoption, not simply by having faith. Chapter five examines the phrases “in Christ,” “in Abraham,” and “in Isaac” (highly debated phrases in Pauline studies) and argues that these refer to embryological assumptions embedded in the ideology of patrilineal descent, the idea that characteristics are passed from father to children through semen (e.g. Gen 15:3–6 and Gal 3:8). Chapter six continues chapter 4’s metaphor by addressing the way in which Christ becomes a brother to all those in faith (Rom 8:29)—again also the embryological assumption plays a role here. Note the way in which Paul uses both metaphors of adoption and of biological descent when rhetorically and mythologically grafting the Gentiles onto the tree of Abraham.

After examining these specific passages, Hodge returns to broader issues in chapter seven, in which she examines how Paul negotiated his multiple identities. Rather than seeing Paul as Jewish or Christian, Jew or Greek, she sees him as navigating multiple identities: a Jew first, but a Jew who subjugates that part of his identity to his “in-Christ” identity, and a teacher who adapts himself to his students by living as a Gentile. The idea employed here is that ethnicity is situational and hierarchically arranged, rather than fixed, and Paul engages in multiple discourses to suit his particular purposes and constructions. So Gal 3:28 is not seen as erasing individual identities, but subjugating them to Christ. Paul’s denial of circumcision for the Gentiles is not seen as a denial of circumcision per se; everyone will still follow circumcision, bit Gentiles need only practice the internal circumcision of the heart.

Chapter 8 ends the book with an examination of oppositional identities: how does Paul separate Jew and Greek? He clearly sees Jews as coming first, as he mentions in Romans 4 and 9–11. But he lays out a salvific plan in which the Greek is included as well. God prefers the Jews, but judges both groups impartially. Romans 9–11, then, is not merely a passage about Gentiles coming to the God of Israel, but a family tree metaphor describing inheritance by adoption. Paul is creating an ethnic genealogy for the Gentiles much as Greek and Roman authors create ethnic genealogies for noble families or entire peoples.

I really like how Hodge’s book brings together both Jewish and Greco-Roman discourses on ethnicity and teases out how Paul uses language of ethnicity. However, in this model of Paul, some of the metaphors he employs are inconsistent. For example, is Christ supposed to be a father or a brother in this metaphorical patrilineal family (103-106)? Other times she seems to mix up metaphors of biological descent and adoption. Maybe Paul himself is being inconsistent. I would grant him that, given that he is not a systematic theologian, but a missionary using rhetoric (not always a logically consistent tool) to persuade believers of his points. But some might find this alleged inconsistency a mark that Hodge’s theory needs work.

For me Hodge’s theory is intriguing because it implies that Paul’s letters can be used to support inculturated Christianity. So just as Paul has Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity, today we might have Nigerian Christianity, Chinese Christianity, etc. The idea is that one does not erase their culture, but always brings it to bear on the religion one has converted to. This is of course a historical fact in all religions, but not one theologians have always accepted.

Book Review: The New Perspective on Paul, Kent Yinger.

I read Yinger’s 103-page book on the “new perspective on Paul” (NPP) in 2 hours.  It was worth my time.  In this book, Yinger details both the main arguments and the history of the NPP, and directs his readers to further reading should they wish to study the issue themselves.  He is himself pro-NPP, but tries to give an impartial survey of the debate for laypeople and pastors.  But this book was helpful for this graduate student too!

YingerAfter introducing the topic and approach of the book, Yinger examines the 1977 publication of E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which laid the groundwork for the NPP.  Sanders was dissatisfied with stereotypical views of first-century Judaism commonly held in the scholarly community: that Jews believed practice of the law and good works could lead to salvation, that this law was a heavy burden which nobody could uphold.  Sanders instead set forth his view of “covenantal nomism,” a common system of practice and theology in first-century Judaism.  Covenantal nomism holds that God and humans are in a covenantal relationship, a relationship in which humans are obligated to God but God also leaves room for God’s grace anbd forgiveness.  Sanders cited texts from the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls showing the individual Jews’ relationship with God as dependent, vulnerable, and loving, rather than merely fearful of a wrathful and unforgiving God.  Sanders laid the foundation for biblical scholars to question the traditional Reformation reading of Paul as an author speaking of salvation through grace apart from works.  He questioned the reading of Judaism as a religion of oppressive legalism.

Chapter three describes James D. G. Dunn’s work in building on Sanders to truly initiate the NPP.  Dunn sought to read Paul in continuity with first-century Judaism and covenantal nomism, rather than opposed to it.  Dunn read Paul’s writings about “works of the law” as not referring to doing good deeds (“works righteousness”) but as referring to specific practices expressing Jewish identity, such as circumcision and keeping kosher.  Hence, Paul was not saying one didn’t have to do good works to be saved, only that specific Jewish cultic practices were not necessary.  The question becomes not “How may I be saved?” but “Who belongs to the company of the righteous?”

Chapter four details other NPP advocates who set forth their own perspectives.  N.T. Wright asks what the problem was that Paul saw Jesus as saving Jews from.  (You know those bumper stickers that say “Jesus is the answer”?  Well, Wright is asking: “What is the question?”)  For Wright, this problem was Jews’ disinheritance of the land, their exile and colonization under the Romans.  Jesus as Messiah reconciled God to Israel for Israel’s sins leading to their political plight.  Other NPP advocates, such as Francis Watson, argue that Paul was more interested in theological legitimation for his Christ-following communities than in working out a systematic soteriology.  Heikki Raisanen argues that we should not try to impose theological coherence on Paul’s occasional letters in the first place.  Paul was interested more in social location and identity than coherent theology.  Other scholars argue that in Paul’s view, the new Christian mode of relating to God did not rule out the Jews’ special place in their covenant, but opened a different covenant to the Gentiles.  Yinger stresses in this chapter that NPP advocates differ greatly amongst themselves.

Chapters five, six, and seven detail the historical, exegetical, and theological-ministerial critiques of NPP.  Historians and biblical scholars take issue with covenantal nomism, saying we should not rule out the possibility that some Jewish groups had fallen into crass legalism.  Exegetes point to passages in Paul that seem to refute the NPP, such as his insistence that he had been a sinner burdened under the law (1 Tim 1:15, Romans 7:15, 18-19).  NPP readings of these texts can seem to flaunt common sense, but at the same time, Paul’s writing can be so rhetorical and opaque that it’s hard to figure out what he is doing.  The chapter on theology and ministry was the most tedious for me.  Yinger details Reformed thinkers who eschew the NPP because it runs counter to Luther’s reading of Paul.  However, most NPP scholars are not concerned with contemporary sectual debates, but with Paul’s thought.  As Yinger says, “trying to get Paul to answer a question he wasn’t asking always produces discomfort for biblical scholars, and usually unsatisfying results for theologians” (86).

Chapter eight, “Let’s Hear it for the NPP,” details several positive effects this new scholarship has led to: a better grasp on Paul’s letters, avoiding modern Western individualist readings of Paul, moving away from stereotyped and insulting depictions of Judaism, drawing more continuity between the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, bringing Paul and Jesus together, and bringing Protestants and Catholics together.  Even the critics of NPP scholarship can reap some of these benefits!

Yinger’s book ends with two afterwards, by Donald A. Hagner and Don Garlington.  Hagner critiques the NPP for passing over the uniqueness of early Christianity.  Garlington suggests three areas of future research on the NPP.  Yinger ends with an annotated bibliography of pro- and anti-NPP works for the reader to evaluate the debate for themselves.

Of all the areas of the Bible, I’ve probably had the least exposure to Paul, so this book was very helpful for me to get a handle on some of the current debates.  I’ll most likely be taking a class on Pauline literature this fall, so it’s good to have a head start!  I especially appreciated how charitably Yinger summarized the perspectives of the scholars he disagreed with.  Apparently I’m not the only one who likes it: blogger Chris McElmurray writes, “this slim volume is now THE entry point into the discussion and is one-stop shopping for those who want to apprise themselves of the pro and the con in a quick read.”

Onward and upward!